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About Last Night
TERRY TEACHOUT on the arts in New York City
(with additional dialogue by OUR GIRL IN CHICAGO)

Friday, September 29, 2006
    TT: Plugged in

    I’m sitting at a table in the food concourse (or whatever they call it) of the Delta-Northwest terminal at LaGuardia Airport, having stood in an awesomely long (but efficiently managed) line, removed and replaced my shoes, presented my shampoo for inspection, eaten breakfast, inserted my in-ear monitors, pressed play to listen to an mp3 of the first movement of Malcolm Arnold’s Second Symphony, logged onto the Web via WiFi, and checked the Northwest Airlines Web site, where I learned that my flight to Minneapolis will be departing LaGuardia an hour later than scheduled so that the crew can get some rest.

    Once upon a time—last year, say—I would have irked beyond words by this last piece of news, but now I don’t care (much). Instead of strutting and fretting, I’ve simply sent an e-mail to Minnesota Public Radio to alert the people I’m meeting for lunch this afternoon that I’ll be an hour late, and now I’m using the extra time to catch up on my correspondence and tinker with the Commentary essay on Malcolm Arnold that I finished writing six hours and seventeen minutes ago. Should I grow tired of Arnold's Second, I can always listen to another of the 2,991 “songs” currently residing in the iTunes player installed in my iBook G4, or shut up the iBook and read Roger Scruton’s Gentle Regrets, the paperback tucked into the outside flap of my wonderful new TravelPro Crew4 Rolling Tote, which I purchased last week for the ridiculously modest sum of $99, took with me to Chicago, and now believe to be the finest carry-on bag in the world.

    Am I feeling smug? Hardly. What I feel at the moment is abject gratitude for any number of things, some small and others very large indeed. Not only do I have the best of all possible jobs, but I’m living at a time when digital technology has made it infinitely easier for middle-class people like me to cope with the stresses and strains of our Age of Do More, Faster.

    Do I wish I lived in a simpler time? Occasionally—but I grew up in a much simpler time, and though I recall with nostalgia my days of slow-moving innocence, I can't begin to imagine doing without cellphones, laptops, and iPods. I spent the first ten years of my career as a professional writer clicking away at a manual typewriter, and I don’t miss that old black monster in the slightest, any more than I regret the invention of the pills I take twice a day in order to defer for as long as possible the appointment with the Distinguished Thing about which I dreamed the other night.

    Were I in a less accepting mood, of course, I could gripe about the fact that I’ve been so busy since coming home from Chicago on Monday that I only managed to sleep for seven hours out of the past forty-eight. Nor do I expect to shoehorn in a nap between now and eight o’clock this evening, when I’ll be showing up at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater to see a revival of Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers. I’ve got plenty more than that to do between now and Sunday afternoon, when I fly back to New York for the second time in a week, and at some point along the way I’m sure I’ll be grumbling about my hectic life—but not now.

    Yes, I'd rather be fast asleep in my loft, but since I’m not, I’m disposed to seize the day and be glad for it. “Why are you stingy with yourselves?” George Balanchine used to ask his dancers. “Why are you holding back? What are you saving for—for another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now.” All things considered, I like now just fine.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 29, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Little house, big show

    In this week’s Wall Street Journal drama column I review two Chicago productions, The Best Man at Remy Bumppo Theatre Company and King Lear at the Goodman Theatre. One was great, the other awful:

    Stop the presses—Gore Vidal wrote a good play! Granted, he wrote it in 1960, but “The Best Man,” a tart, smart story of dirty politics run amok, could have been penned last week, and Remy Bumppo Theatre Company’s consummately well-acted revival is strong enough to put this ambitious Chicago troupe on the national map….

    Remy Bumppo, which performs in a pleasingly intimate 150-seat house, is a 10-year-old ensemble whose slogan is “Think theatre.” According to its mission statement, the company “strives to delight and engage audiences with the emotional and ethical complexities of society through the provocative power of great theatrical language.” This production lives up to those fancy words. Every member of the cast is ideal or close to it….

    “Who is’t can say, ‘I am at the worst?’” one of the characters in “King Lear” inquires of the audience. I can. Robert Falls’ appallingly expensive desecration of “Lear,” mounted by the Goodman Theatre in celebration of his 20th year as its artistic director, is the worst production of a Shakespeare play I’ve witnessed in a lifetime of theatergoing. It opens in a men’s room (the first thing you see is a row of working urinals). What follows is an endless string of let’s-be-ever-so-modern shock effects—oral sex, anal rape, male and female nudity, murder by garrote—that were already looking old-fashioned when Mr. Falls came to Chicago two decades ago….

    I also take enthusiastic note of the long-delayed transfer to Broadway of Jay Johnson: The Two and Only, about which I raved when it played the off-Broadway Atlantic Theatre two years ago.

    No free link. To read the whole thing, pick up a copy of today’s paper and turn to the “Weekend Journal” section, or go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, which will give you immediate access to the full text of my review. (If you’re already a subscriber, you’ll find it here.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 29, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "The reason that music attracts me more than any other art is its abstract quality. I like music because it is not connected with any time, place or particular thing. It is abstract emotion. As soon as you get words, you’re tied to a particular object or situation, inevitably, by the use of words, which to me limits the vast horizons that music has from an emotional point of view."

    Malcolm Arnold, BBC interview, 1959

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 29, 2006 | Permanent link
Thursday, September 28, 2006
    TT: Chronicle of wasted time

    A composer I know was recently told by his doctors that he could expect to live for another ten years or so. He’s in his late seventies, so that wasn’t stop-press news, but even so, it concentrated his mind wonderfully. Now that he has a pretty good idea of how much time he has left, he’s deciding what pieces of music he wants to write before the clock runs out.

    Such thoughts have a way of becoming alarmingly specific when you spend large chunks of your life composing symphonies or writing books. When my friend told me what his doctors had told him, I found myself wondering what I’d do if I were to learn (which I haven't) that I, too, was likely to die in ten years. It took me about that long to write The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken. Would I roll up my sleeves, spit on my hands, and start work at once on another book of similar proportions, or opt instead for a less elaborate project that I could wrap up in a year or two? Might I decide to embark on something completely different? Or choose to do nothing at all?

    Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom, says the psalmist. I wonder how many of us do, or even try. I nearly died nine months ago, and you’d think that such an sobering experience would cause me to devote my remaining days to none but the most consequential of tasks—but you’d be wrong. A couple of Saturdays ago, for instance, I found myself with no shows to see and no appointments to keep. How did I spend my precious night off? Did I pile up fresh pages of Hotter Than That: A Life of Louis Armstrong? Did I closet myself with a hitherto-unread classic, or listen anew to Op. 111, or spend hour upon hour contemplating the Teachout Museum in breathless silence? No, indeed. I sent out for pizza, curled up on the couch, and watched a pair of perfectly silly movies.

    This puts me in mind of the famous passage in which one of Tolstoy’s characters meditates upon a performance of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata:

    In China music is under the control of the State, and that is the way it ought to be. Is it admissible that the first comer should hypnotize one or more persons, and then do with them as he likes? And especially that the hypnotizer should be the first immoral individual who happens to come along? It is a frightful power in the hands of any one, no matter whom. For instance, should they be allowed to play this “Kreutzer Sonata,” the first presto,—and there are many like it,—in parlors, among ladies wearing low necked dresses, or in concerts, then finish the piece, receive the applause, and then begin another piece? These things should be played under certain circumstances, only in cases where it is necessary to incite certain actions corresponding to the music. But to incite an energy of feeling which corresponds to neither the time nor the place, and is expended in nothing, cannot fail to act dangerously. On me in particular this piece acted in a frightful manner. One would have said that new sentiments, new virtualities, of which I was formerly ignorant, had developed in me. “Ah, yes, that's it! Not at all as I lived and thought before! This is the right way to live!”

    I’m not going to try to tell you that listening to Beethoven—or anything else—galvanizes me in so thoroughgoing a way. Nevertheless, I do spend more time than most people exposing myself to works of art whose effects on the nervous system can be very dire indeed. I’ve seen a dozen Shakespeare plays since getting out of the hospital last December, two of them twice. Would I have done that if I weren’t a drama critic? Probably not. Man cannot live by masterpieces alone, nor is he capable of spending all his days and nights screwed up to the highest possible pitch of moral and intellectual resolution. Every once in a while he has to send out for pizza and watch Two Weeks Notice instead.

    I had a nightmare in Chicago last weekend, a few hours after seeing a performance of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, in which one of the characters tells an old friend that he’s dying. A couple of weeks before that, I'd seen Breaker Morant, a movie that ends with an explicitly gory firing-squad scene, and in between I had occasion to chat with a friend about Dialogues of the Carmelites, the Poulenc opera whose climax is a procession to the guillotine by a group of nuns who have been condemned to death by a revolutionary tribunal. All these experiences somehow became scrambled in my head, and I dreamed that I was watching a long line of nuns who were being led one by one into an adjacent room, where an unseen executioner shot them to death. At some point in the dream, I realized that I was standing in the same line, and that in a matter of minutes I, too, would be given a dose of what Philip Larkin called “the anesthetic from which none come round.” That's when I woke up.

    I wish I could tell you that I went straight home to New York and polished off a chapter of Hotter Than That, but I didn’t. I did, however, write the drama column that will appear in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal, then started work on my next Commentary essay. In between I saw a press preview of Eric Bogosian’s subUrbia, dined with two good friends, talked to my mother on the phone three times, and read two new biographies, one about Fritz Reiner and the other about Orson Welles. I've done better—and worse.

    All of which, I suppose, is a roundabout way of saying that I’m only human. Who among us applies his heart unto wisdom twenty-four hours a day, or anything remotely approaching it? Not me. On the other hand, I’m not a saint, much less a genius, and I’m old enough to know exactly how unimportant I am in the grand scheme of things. If my plane to Minneapolis were to crash tomorrow morning, I doubt the world would weep bitter tears to learn that Hotter Than That had been left unfinished, or that someone else would be taking over as drama critic of The Wall Street Journal. (In fact, I know a number of people who might consider throwing a party.)

    None of this, needless to say, makes it remotely acceptable for me to fritter away the unknown remnant of my life in useless pursuits. Nor do I plan to do so. I expect to finish Hotter Than That, to get started on another book as soon as that one is done, to keep on writing my Wall Street Journal reviews and Commentary essays for as long as the editors of those publications care to publish them, and to whittle steadily away at the embarrassingly long list of great books I’ve never read and great plays I’ve never seen. I also expect to spend more than a few too many nights sitting on the couch watching dumb movies—and, more than likely, feeling guilty about it the next day. That, too, is life.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 28, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: So you want to see a show?

    Here's my list of recommended Broadway and off-Broadway shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows strongly favorable reviews in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.

    Warning: Broadway shows marked with an asterisk were sold out, or nearly so, last week.

    Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
    The Drowsy Chaperone* (musical, G/PG-13, mild sexual content and a profusion of double entendres, reviewed here)
    The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (musical, PG-13, mostly family-friendly but contains a smattering of strong language and a production number about an unwanted erection, reviewed here)
    The Wedding Singer (musical, PG-13, some sexual content, reviewed here)

    The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children old enough to enjoy a love story, reviewed here)
    Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris (musical revue, R, adult subject matter and sexual content, reviewed here)
    Slava's Snowshow (performance art, G, child-friendly, reviewed here)

    Seven Guitars (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, reviewed here, extended through Oct. 15)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 28, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "The feeling of virtuous lawyers toward shysters is the same as that of virtuous women toward prostitutes. Condemnation, certainly; but somewhere in it one tiny grain of envy, not to be recognized, let alone acknowledged."

    Rex Stout, The Golden Spiders

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 28, 2006 | Permanent link
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
    TT: Racing with the clock

    Sorry for the continuing silence, but Our Girl and I are both struggling mightily to hit a pair of scary deadlines before heading for our respective airports and flying off into the wild blue yonder (in different directions, alas). I promise to post something tasty on Thursday. In the meantime, I've knocked out a couple of fresh Top Five picks for your entertainment pleasure.

    See you tomorrow, I hope.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 27, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "In the Lewis Carroll world of the structuralists, of course, there is no such thing as truth: there is merely 'truth.'"

    Simon Callow, Orson Welles: Hello Americans

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 27, 2006 | Permanent link
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
    TT: Almanac

    "Up to a point, every film shot on location assumes the character of a war fought against the indigenous people."

    Simon Callow, Orson Welles: Hello Americans

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 26, 2006 | Permanent link
Monday, September 25, 2006
    TT: In transit

    I’m sitting at a table in the food concourse (or whatever they call it) of Chicago’s Midway Airport, clicking away at my iBook instead of eating breakfast. Not only were Our Girl and I too busy to write anything this weekend, but I expect to find myself in a medium-sized tizzy shortly after I return to New York this afternoon. I have to write a Wall Street Journal column about my recent playgoing and a Commentary essay about Malcolm Arnold, the British composer who died over the weekend, and come Friday I’ll be on the road again. (Look out, Minneapolis!) For all these reasons, I figured I’d do better to knock out a quick what-we-did-this-weekend posting than cram down a Sausage McMuffin before bording my plane, a decision with which my cardiologist will no doubt concur.

    My visit to the Windy City got off to a shaky start on Friday when OGIC and I showed up on time for an eight-thirty reservation at Blackbird, a Chicago restaurant we used to like. After spending a half-hour waiting in vain to be seated, during which time the snooty staff offered us nothing in the way of solicitude, reassurance, or liquid compensation, we took our trade to La Sardine, vowing as we departed to blog about our disagreeable experience at the earliest opportunity. (No, we won’t be back.)

    You’ll have to wait until Friday to find out what I thought of the Goodman Theatre’s big-budget production of King Lear and Remy Bumppo’s small-scale revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, but in the meantime I can tell you that the buffalo sausage on which I lunched at Hot Doug’s was sensational. Alas, we didn’t make it to the Farnsworth House on Saturday—Laura figured it didn’t make much sense to visit a glass house on a gray, rainy day—but we did have tea with Ms. Litwit after our Sunday matinee, and can report that she is as clever and charming as her blog. As for music, we listened to Rachel Ries and Madeleine Peyroux in the car, about which more later.

    The rest was talk, some of it over breakfast at Hyde Park’s Original Pancake House and dinner downtown at Osteria Via Stato and some of it in between movies at Our Girl’s place, where we watched Kicking and Screaming and The Lady Vanishes. OGIC and I don’t chat on the phone as often as we should, so when we do get together we always have a lot to say and not enough time to get it all said.

    That’s it for now—my plane is boarding and I have things to do in New York. See you in cyberspace.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 25, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "In art, as in life, bad manners, not to be confused with a deliberate intention to cause offence, are the consequence of an over-concern with one's ego and a lack of consideration for (and knowledge of) others."

    W.H. Auden, foreword, Collected Shorter Poems, 1927-1957 (courtesy of Modern Kicks)

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 25, 2006 | Permanent link
Friday, September 23, 2005
    TT: Hitting the road

    I'm off to Chicago today to visit Our Girl and see a couple of plays. I'll be returning to New York at midday Monday. What effect my travels will have on what gets posted in this space come Monday morning remains to be seen. For that matter, OGIC and I might even blog a bit over the weekend, depending on what we get up to in Chicago. Look in on us and see for yourself!

    (Did you notice all the new Top Fives, by the way?)

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 23, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: A state of (theatrical) grace

    Friday again, and time as usual for my weekly Wall Street Journal drama-column teaser. This week I report on my recent visit to Wisconsin, where I saw performances by American Players Theatre, Madison Repertory Theatre, and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater:

    What's in Wisconsin, America's dairyland? Cheese (naturally), beer, bratwurst, cranberries, the Green Bay Packers and thousands of glacial lakes. Also the Milwaukee Art Museum, an insufficiently celebrated institution whose spectacular new pavilion, designed by Santiago Calatrava, has already become a regional landmark. And—no, I wasn't forgetting—lots and lots of theater companies, three of which I saw on a recent visit that left me quite impressed....

    All in all, my week in Wisconsin was hugely satisfying, and I only wish I'd had time to catch a few more plays while I was there. I don't know whether theater-loving Wisconsinites realize how lucky they've got it, but I can assure them that they don't need to go to New York—or even Chicago—to see a good show.

    For details, pick up a copy of today's Journal, or go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, which will allow you to read my column in its entirety, not to mention all sorts of other cool stuff.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 23, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Commissioning fee paid to Aaron Copland by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge in 1944 for the score of Martha Graham's Appalachian Spring: $500

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $5,341.70

    (Source: Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis, Copland Since 1943)

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 23, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "We are unable to live nakedly. We must constantly wrap ourselves in a cocoon of mental constructs, our changing styles of philosophy, poetry, art. We invest meaning in that which is opposed to meaning; that ceaseless labor, that spinning is the most purely human of our activities."

    Czeslaw Milosz, "Essay in Which the Author Confesses That He Is on the Side of Man, for Lack of Anything Better"

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 23, 2005 | Permanent link
Thursday, September 22, 2005
    OGIC: Cameo appearance

    Yesterday I posted over at the Litblog Co-op about the book I nominated for the LBC Fall 2005 Read This! selection. It's a remarkable novel by Nadeem Aslam, Maps for Lost Lovers. I think I kind of hogged the blog—the post goes on and on and on—and I didn't even scratch the surface of what impressed me about the book. Check it out, and by all means seek out this book if you're in the mood for an enveloping family drama told in prose to get drunk on. (In a good way!)

    P.S. Terry wrote and asked why I didn't post an excerpt here. I replied that this was a very good question. Here's a slice:

    Aslam is great at unearthing rich psychologies like Kaukab’s in an emotionally potent way; he’s great at interiors. But that’s a bit misleading, since another distinction of his novel is the way it reflexively looks outward to see in: a great deal of what we know about the characters is divined through detailed representations of the world as they see it. The thickly descriptive style through which Aslam achieves this will, I imagine, prove overly rich for some readers. Seven metaphors and similes on the first page alone sounds alarming, doesn’t it? But—apart from the fact that many of them are stunning—metaphoric language is more than a vehicle here, and certainly more than just ornament. It’s close to being a provisional philosophy.

    The metaphors and similies that carpet Aslam’s prose have individual beauty and collective significance, evoking a world in which hardly anything isn’t strikingly like something else—a world of underlying connectedness. Juxtaposed with the divisions and strife that characterize the social world the novel depicts, this connectedness comes to seem a necessity, and those who attend to it—Shamas and Kaukab included, the murderers not—are small heroes doing everyday justice to both the variety of the world and its unity.

    That gives you the flavor. To get the context, go read the whole thing. As they say.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, September 22, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Elsewhere

    Here's some of what I've been reading on the Web in recent weeks:

    Lance Mannion finds something new to say about the death of Bob Denver…

    Movies always seem part of their times. In fact, they are windows back in their time. But television shows seem always to take place in the present. We've been watching a lot of old Dick Van Dyke shows lately, thanks to Netflix, and although the black and white world of Rob and Laura looks as old-fashioned as my parents' wedding album (not surprisingly), and many of the characters' attitudes towards life, work, sex, marriage, and the suburbs were 10 years out of date when the show was being made, the Petries' imaginary world still feels like the world I live in now, while a movie made in the early 60s, even one in color, like—just to pick another comedy about young marrieds that's just as dated in its attitudes about men, women, sex, and marriage—Barefoot in the Park feels very much like a period piece….

    • …and Paul Mitchinson finds something equally new to say about the death of Robert Moog:

    Electronic music does not usher in the Communist apocalypse, but it does change the way we create music and listen to music. It has vastly expanded the universe of sound, and given a power to composers previously undreamed-of. But it has, by necessity, severely restricted the power, the imagination, and—dare I say?—the intelligence of the audience, who are no longer asked to assist the composer in perceiving musical nuances. This is the root, I think, of the “coldness” that many people perceive in electronic music. By asserting absolute control over every aspect of his music, the composer has unwittingly disposed of one of the most powerful tools of expression—the audience's own imagination….

    • Mr. Think Denk dines on sushi, rereads The Golden Bowl, practices a Bach partita for the umpteenth time, and has an epiphany:

    This is really when the practicing pays off; when music and all its business seems quite worthwhile: when you "get" something, even if it might mostly vanish tomorrow, and might never make it out over the airwaves to your listeners, even if it may end up, finally, being something you only share between yourself and J.S. ... I shouldn't have begun by saying I lived "with" the dead. Rather, for that one sentence: I lived through the dead. Visions of Bach in his candlelight scribbling. That crusty old Lutheran might have stopped having more children in Heaven and taken a moment to give me, secular self-absorbed New Yorker, a little life….

    • Ms. twang twang twang, yet another musician who can really, really write, reports from a stop she made in the middle of a European tour:

    As a mark of respect, and perhaps because there is nothing normal to say, talking is not allowed in Auschwitz. That didn't stop some tourists, as they photographed reams of women's hair on their mobile phones. Did you also, you fat-arsed westerners, snap the commandant's corpseskin lampshades? The false limbs removed from cripples before they themselves were removed to "take a shower"? Did you munch a hotdog after the baby clothes? Did you see them?

    As with chatter, the camps usually permit no music. There is no joy here, and without joy you can't have music—only sound. The photographs of the camp orchestra, forced to play marches as the prisoners went to work, are grotesque, music "raped and degraded" (survivor August Kowalczyk). It's horrible, too, that the Nazis loved music. It stirs up emotions, and if people feel what they are told, they will believe it….

    • Our beloved Erin McKeown was on WNYC-FM's Soundcheck last week. You can listen to her via streaming audio by going here.

    • Ms. Pratie Place, who lives in North Carolina, went to see Junebug, which was filmed there:

    Our hometown papers predictably heap fulsome praise on "our" movies—this one qualifies since director Phil Morrison and screenwriter Angus MacLachlan are Winston-Salem natives. The local fare has, then, often disappointed me—but not this time.

    In fact even though the glowing review by a famously and preposterously pompous local reviewer whom I have detested for years made me want to dislike the movie, I just couldn't. It is beautiful to look at, and the screenplay is intelligent and beautiful; funny and sad; woven of natural, unselfconscious moments.

    The acting is transparent (highest praise); the characters are believable, charismatic, full of energy. I came away loving them all, even the grouchy, difficult ones….

    • Cassandra, call your office: The Wall Street Journal posts a free link to a story about a blogger who got sued because of the comments on his site. I told you so!

    Read. Ponder. Read again.

    • You need a laugh now, right? Well, here it is: The ORIGINAL Illustrated Catalog of ACME Products, guaranteed to malfunction when used as instructed. Coyotes, beware!

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 22, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: So you want to see a show?

    Here's my list of recommended Broadway and off-Broadway shows, updated each Thursday. In all cases, I either gave these shows strongly favorable reviews in The Wall Street Journal when they opened or saw and liked them some time in the past year (or both). For more information, click on the title.

    Warning: Broadway shows marked with an asterisk were sold out, or nearly so, last week.

    Avenue Q* (musical, R, adult subject matter, strong language, one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex)
    Chicago (musical, R, adult subject matter, sexual content, fairly strong language)
    Doubt* (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, implicit sexual content)
    Fiddler on the Roof (musical, G, one scene of mild violence but otherwise family-friendly)
    The Light in the Piazza (musical, PG-13, adult subject matter and a brief bedroom scene)
    Sweet Charity (musical, PG-13, lots of cutesy-pie sexual content)
    The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (musical, PG-13, mostly family-friendly but contains a smattering of strong language and a production number about an unwanted erection)

    Mother Courage (drama with songs, PG-13, adult subject matter)
    Orson's Shadow (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, very strong language)
    Sides: The Fear Is Real… (sketch comedy, PG, some strong language)
    Slava's Snowshow (performance art, G, child-friendly)

    Philadelphia, Here I Come! (drama, PG, closes Sunday)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 22, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Total fee paid to Arturo Toscanini for conducting the first ten-concert season of the NBC Symphony in 1937-38, including a $5,000 bonus to cover his U.S. income tax: $45,000

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $579,217.54

    (Source: Mortimer H. Frank, Arturo Toscanini: The NBC Years)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 22, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    The buzzard never says it is to blame.
    The panther wouldn't know what scruples mean.
    When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
    If snakes had hands, they'd claim their hands were clean.

    A jackal doesn't understand remorse.
    Lions and lice don't waver in their course.
    Why should they, when they know they're right?

    Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton,
    in every other way they're light.

    On this third planet of the sun
    among the signs of bestiality
    A clear conscience is Number One.

    Wislawa Szymborska, "In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself" (trans. Stanislaw Baraczak and Clare Cavanagh)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 22, 2005 | Permanent link
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
    TT: In the red zone

    Excerpt from an e-mail sent to a friend in San Francisco twelve hours ago:

    I'm feeling a bit, er, frazzled. I got up at six and wrote the drama column, sent it off and went to the gym at eleven to be pushed around by my trainer, came back to my desk to resume work from yesterday on my Frank Lloyd Wright piece, and am now standing by for what we call the "playback" of the drama column (i.e., the copyedited version, incorporating queries and requests for fixes). After that I have to do laundry, pick up my framed Bonnard (I hope, I hope!), book myself into a bunch of play previews, read the day's incoming snail mail, talk to a Rounder Records publicist about the new Jelly Roll Morton reissue package, and catch the late set at the Village Vanguard tonight. In between all this mishegoss I'm (A) bidding on a restrike of a Matisse etching and (B) reading the first volume of Hilary Spurling's wonderful Matisse biography. Tomorrow is very similar, Thursday somewhat less loony, and on Friday it's off to Chicago. Whee! I took some time off last week, right? I forget....

    Here's the rest of the story: I just now got back from taking Bass Player, my kindred spirit, to the Vanguard (she'd never been!) to hear the Bad Plus play selections from their new CD, Suspicious Activity? Yes, they were incredible, and yes, I love New York, but I'm on the leading edge of a meltdown, and if I don't get at least ten hours of sleep starting right now, they won't have to cremate me to scatter my ashes—all they'll have to do is vacuum them up from the floor of my office.

    (A bad sign: I tried to take off my glasses a moment ago and discovered that they were already off.)

    Later. Much later. Way later.

    Oh, yes, one more thing: the Bonnard wasn't ready. And I didn't get the Matisse, either. (I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman.) All the more reason to sleep late....

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 21, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Commissioning fee paid in 1940 to Paul Hindemith by George Balanchine for the score of The Four Temperaments: $250

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $3,326.77

    (Source: Luther Noss, Paul Hindemith in the United States)

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 21, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Who knows what true loneliness is—not the conventional word, but the naked terror? To the lonely themselves it wears a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or some illusion. Now and then a fatal conjunction of events may lift the veil for an instant. For an instant only. No human being could bear a steady view of moral solitude without going mad."

    Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 21, 2005 | Permanent link
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
    TT: Lost illusions

    I'd hoped to put together a nice big juicy posting of links to other artblogs and art-related sites, but it just didn't happen and won't until tomorrow, if then. Lots of other things happened instead, nearly all of them work-related, though two were strictly private: I picked up my new Bonnard lithograph (which is now being framed) and got my hair cut, the latter a mere two weeks late! I looked soooo unkempt and uncared-for a mere twenty-four hours ago, but now I'm nice and neat again....

    Anyway, I doubt I'll have anything more for you until Wednesday, but hope springs eternal. In the meantime, go look at some of those other cool blogs listed in the right-hand column, O.K.?

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 20, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Cover price of Vol. 1, No. 1 of The New Yorker, published in 1925: 15 cents

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $1.62

    (Source: Thomas Kunkel, Genius in Disguise)

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 20, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "It may have been observed that there is no regular path for getting out of love as there is for getting in. Some people look upon marriage as a short cut that way, but it has been known to fail."

    Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 20, 2005 | Permanent link
Monday, September 19, 2005
    TT: A flâneur's notes

    Mother Nature decided to send the citizens of New York one last heat wave before letting us take our black turtlenecks out of mothballs. Lucky me—I rubbed my nose in it Friday morning. Rarely am I absolutely required to take crowded subways, but I had a 10:30 appointment in the section of Brooklyn known to scenesters and the cognoscenti as “Dumbo” (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), and unless your trusty chauffeur is waiting patiently at curbside, the only way to get there from here on a weekday morning is via subway. That's how I did it, and I hated every second of the ride. The subway car was hot, smelly, and crowded, and the humidity at street level was so high that I felt as though I were being garrotted by a vicious odalisque in a Turkish bath.

    The one good part of the trip was that I saw Middagh Street, the site of the now-legendary Brooklyn residence where W.H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, Carson McCullers, and Gypsy Rose Lee all kept communal house back in 1940. (Sherill Tippins wrote about it earlier this year in February House.) Alas, 7 Middagh was torn down in 1945 to make room for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and nothing now remains of it but an unmarked spot on the sidewalk. Still, I got to stroll past that historic address on my way to St. Ann's Warehouse, where the Builders Association is currently rehearsing its new show, Super Vision, which opens November 29 at BAM Harvey in Brooklyn.

    I got interested in the Builders Association after seeing its last show, Alladeen, about which I raved in The Wall Street Journal, so when I was invited to a private runthrough of two sections of Super Vision, I jumped at the chance, heavy weather notwithstanding. It's a multimedia documentary-fantasy-tone poem about “dataveillance” in the twenty-first century, and if that sounds a bit off the wall to you, I strongly suggest you go here and view the trailer, which will tell you more about Super Vision than I possibly can. All I'll add for now is that having seen fifteen minutes' worth of Super Vision, I intend to see the whole thing at least twice when it comes to BAM.

    I returned to the Teachout Museum from Dumbo to discover that I'd bought a new piece of art. Specifically, I turned out to be the high bidder on a 1942 color lithograph by Pierre Bonnard called Femme assise dans sa bagnoire, one of the long, increasingly phantasmagoric series of paintings, prints, and works on paper in which Marthe, Bonnard's mistress, is shown bathing. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to pick up my latest acquisition—I had to spend the rest of the afternoon at my desk—so I'll be stopping by Swann Galleries to collect it some time today.

    (Speaking of art, I spent part of Friday sifting through my accumulated snail mail of the past couple of weeks, and was thereby reminded of two gallery shows I mean to go see as soon as possible, Jules Olitski's Matter Embraced: Paintings 1950s and Now, up at Knoedler & Company through Nov. 5, and Neil Welliver: A Memorial Exhibition, up at Alexandre Gallery through Oct. 22. I'll report back to you in due course, but don't wait for me—I'd bet the rent that both shows will be well worth a visit.)

    Once I wrapped up the day's work, I caught a crosstown bus to the Upper East Side and met my friend Meg at the Metropolitan Museum, where we looked at a very important show that nearly slipped past me, Matisse: The Fabric of Dreams, His Art and His Textiles, which closes next Sunday. I can't believe I came so close to missing this breathtaking exhibition, one of the finest of the Met's “teaching shows,” an orgy of color that is at once highly informative and enjoyable in the extreme (unlike, say, MoMA's recent Cézanne/Pissarro show, which I found enervatingly didactic). If you haven't gone, it's not too late, and if you have, it's not too late to go again.

    And that was my Friday, except for the climactic treat that awaited me at one minute past midnight, when The Wall Street Journal posted my first "Sightings" column on its Web site, a great and glorious moment I'd been awaiting anxiously. Now, of course, the moment's over, and I've got to get cracking on my second column, but it sure did feel good to see it in print at last.

    This will be a crazy-busy week, by the way, ending in yet another out-of-town trip: I'm headed for Chicago on Friday afternoon to visit Our Girl and see a couple of shows, Chicago Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and Stephen Lang's Beyond Glory at the Goodman Theatre. I expect to be busy as hell between now and the time the plane takes off, so posting is likely to be a bit on the skimpy side. Not to worry too much, though: OGIC and I solemnly swear to have something good for you to read each morning, terse though it may occasionally have to be.

    Enough for now. A Bonnard waits for me!

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 19, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Words to the wise (1)

    A friend drew my attention over the weekend to the music of a New York-based singer-songwriter named Farah Alvin. As it happens, I'd heard Alvin before, but under the worst possible circumstances: she was part of the hard-working ensemble in The Look of Love: The Songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, a deservedly short-lived Broadway revue about which I had only brutal things to say in The Wall Street Journal back in 2003. Little did I know that as The Look of Love was going down for the count, Alvin was in the process of putting out a really exceptional debut album called Someday. You can read about it here and buy it here, and I strongly suggest you do both.

    CD Baby, the Web store that specializes in independently released albums, classifies Someday as “jazz-influenced folk-rock,” which comes pretty damn close to the mark in just four well-chosen words. All I can usefully add is that Someday is full of lots and lots of everything I like in pop music: good tunes, smart lyrics, gorgeous singing, spare and striking arrangements.

    I especially like “Tragedienne,” a song about two women whose friendship is on the rocks:

    It used to be you and me against the world,
    A motley crew of two tenacious wits.
    It used to be you and me were thick as thieves,
    But now I guess you want to call it quits.
    Why don't you be the woman you used to be?
    Why don't you be my friend again?
    Why not rewrite your life as a comedy,

    If you've enjoyed the music of Erin McKeown, Jonatha Brooke, Allison Moorer, Luciana Souza, Dave's True Story, the Lascivious Biddies, or any of the other slightly off-center singer-songwriters and pop groups championed in the past by the like-minded proprietors of this blog, my guess is that Farah Alvin will suit you right down to the ground. Check her out. (You, too, OGIC!)

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 19, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Words to the wise (2)

    I'm still soooo into Cat and Girl. Join me, won't you?

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 19, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Rerun

    December 2003:

    I've lived in New York for the better part of two decades now, and you'd think I'd have gotten used to it. In a way, I suppose I have, but even now all it takes is a whiff of the unexpected and I catch myself boggling at that which the native New Yorker really does take for granted. As for my visits to Smalltown, U.S.A., they invariably leave me feeling like yesterday's immigrant, marveling at things no small-town boy can ever really dismiss as commonplace, no matter how long he lives in the capital of the world....

    (If it's new to you, read the whole thing here.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 19, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Weekly salary paid to Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich in 1940 as members of Tommy Dorsey's big band: $125

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $1,663.39

    (Source: Peter J. Levinson, Tommy Dorsey: Livin' in a Great Big Way)

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 19, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "The compensation of a very early success is a conviction that life is a romantic matter. In the best sense one stays young."

    F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 19, 2005 | Permanent link
Friday, September 24, 2004
    TT: Better mousetraps

    Three more readers chime in on “About Last Night”’s topic du jour:

    • “Reading your post on the effect of technology on the written word, I noted your statement that no one in his right mind would write a 5,000-word essay with a fountain pen. My personal preferences aside, I feel obliged to point out that Neal Stephenson, an author known for his cutting-edge science fiction, wrote all three of his most recent books (totalling nearly 3,000 pages) by hand, with a fountain pen. Whether Mr. Stephenson is in his right mind or not is up for debate, I suppose, but he is, at least, proof that the fountain pen can keep up with the modern age.”

    • “I fall heavily in favour of using the library. I survive on a single income, so hard cover books fall on the wrong side of the budget for me. The library comes through for me every time. In fact, I found 4 out 5 of your suggestions for new jazz listeners at my library and I currently have 'The Skeptic' signed out. (And no, I can't find 'The Terry Teachout Reader' at the library either.) The other thing my library has is movies - including DVD's.

    “One thing that has made my library experience even more enjoyable is the online catalogue. If I discover a book, CD or movie I want to explore while surfing the web, it's a quick click and search to see if my library has a copy. Then I simply reserve it and when it is available they notify me. I think they are even going to e-mail notifications. Between my computer and my library card I can continue to learn and be entertained without a large bill at the other end.”

    • “A friend just pointed out something else about ebooks. You can't get an author's written signature on it!”

    I promise to let you all know at once if anybody ever asks me to inscribe an e-book….

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 24, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Chicago-off-Broadway

    I note wistfully that Chicago Shakespeare's production of Rose Rage officially opens in New York tonight. Terry and I saw the play last January here in Chicago, where it held us rapt for its whole five hours plus. Jay Whittaker's Richard, especially, is a performance not to be missed; I still get a little chill up my spine.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, September 24, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Found object

    Here’s a snippet of conversation I had with my trainer (who is studying to be an actor) during my workout earlier today:

    HIM: Did you see Mean Girls?

    ME (suspiciously): Er, no. Is it good—I mean, of its kind?

    HIM (enthusiastically): It’s really good. It’s even got a good plot. I cried at the end. Of course, I cry at everything now—it’s because I’m getting so open. “Oh, [sniffle] if only I could use that in a scene.” Know what I mean?

    Incidentally, I wouldn’t be even slightly surprised if he pops up in an action movie one of these days….

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 24, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Encore

    I love what OGIC wrote just below, and it reminded me of one of my favorite quotations about literature, which comes at the very end of C.S. Lewis' An Experiment in Criticism. I've mentioned it before on this blog, but it seemed so relevant to what she said that I thought it worth repeating:

    Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

    What he said.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 24, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: The world as I found it

    Over at Elegant Variation today, Mark Sarvas has a self-searching little essay about the way his literary tastes are changing as he grows older. The spur for his ruminations was reading two very different books in succession—David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Shirley Hazzard's The Great Fire—and discovering that the artistically conservative Hazzard did a whole lot more for him. On the verge of turning 40, Mark's not so sure how he feels about this:

    But the truth is I like things a little quieter, a little slower. I like to linger. I like to peer inside. I don’t necessarily mind books where nothing much happens; because in life, it’s often the case that nothing much happens. I find that for my taste—and it is not much more than a question of taste—I prefer the quiet truths. I was struck by Stephen Mitchelmore’s recent post on his splinters blog, where he said:

    Is there anyone else who gets excited, instead, by very short novels that do not rely for effect on clinical mastery, faux-naivete, "very old-fashioned entertainment" and/or bad faith?

    When I read that, I jumped up and down pointing at the screen, shouting, “Yes! Yes! Exactly!” (It’s worth pointing out that [John] Banville closes his review of The Great Fire with these words: “Yet when the narrative leaves love to one side and concerns itself with depicting a world and a time in chaos, it rises to heights far, far above the barren plain where most of contemporary fiction makes its tiny maneuvers.”)

    Still, these leanings trouble me. I often ask myself what I would have made of cubism when it first appeared. I’m a great devotee of Picasso and Braque today but I recognize that it’s with all the benefits of hindsight. Or would I have embraced Jackson Pollock forty years after cubism, or would I have derided him as Jack the Dripper? I like to think I would have recognized genius for what it was but I'm just not certain. (When I played in a rock band, I used to promise myself that my outlook would always stay young; that I’d one day be the sort of parent who knew and listened to the same music as my kids. Perhaps the fact that I played in a band that exclusively covered the Beatles should have been seen as something of red flag, but it’s hard to be heard above youthful intransigence.)

    I've recently noticed some shifts in my own reading tastes that seem to signal nothing so much as that I'm getting older. For me, though, it seems a matter of wanting windows where I used to want mirrors. I've read enough novels about people like me having experiences like mine. Now I want to find out about the rest of the world. Much like Sam Golden Rule Jones here, I want, these days, to find the world itself in a novel. It might not be going too far to say that I want information from my fiction, however much that makes it sound like I should be reading the newspaper.

    If it's any comfort to Mark at all, I think there's a way to see an artist like Hazzard, however traditional her methods, as anything but conservative. I haven't read The Great Fire yet; I'm saving it up for a moment when I need some surefire rapture. But what was so enthralling to me about Hazzard's Transit of Venus was that it dared to try to be true—always a long shot. That sort of vision, and conviction to it, is a hook that postmodernism can make it easy for a writer to—rather conservatively—wriggle off of. So stop worrying, Mark, and have a liberally pleasurable birthday.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, September 24, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Go thou and do likewise

    I just got back from hearing the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra at the Jazz Standard, and I’m still flying. It’s been some time since Schneider’s big band last appeared in a New York nightclub, and there’s no better place to hear it than the Standard, where the barbecue is tasty, the vibe is comfy, and the sound system is in the hands of experts. Schneider is, of course, the jazz composer of her generation, and as for the band, I hope I don’t need to tell you how remarkable it is.

    Schneider continues at the Standard through Sunday. For more information, go here. Be sure to make a reservation, by the way—the club was packed for the first set on Thursday, and my guess is that most of this weekend’s performances will sell out in advance.

    On Monday I went to hear Madeleine Peyroux’s opening night at Le Jazz Au Bar. I profiled her in last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, and the effects of that piece were still being felt four days later. Monday’s performance was sold out to the walls (which astonished the manager—jazz clubs are never full early in the week), and several out-of-towners told me they’d come to New York to see the show after reading what I wrote. How about that?

    Peyroux continues at Le Jazz Au Bar through Saturday, with sets at eight and ten p.m. Once again, I strongly suggest you make a reservation—the joint, it seems, is still jumping. For more information, go here.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 24, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Words (what are they good for?)

    As so often happens after Thursday, today is Friday, meaning that I’m in The Wall Street Journal with a review of two terrific off-Broadway revivals, Eugčne Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano at the Atlantic Theater and Basil Twist’s Symphonie Fantastique at Dodger Stages:

    Eugčne Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano,” written in 1950 and now playing Off Broadway at the Atlantic Theater through Oct. 17 in a new translation by Tina Howe, is the opposite of a well-made play, so much so that Ionesco himself called it an “anti-play.” Nothing much happens in “The Bald Soprano” (nothing explicable, anyway) and nobody says anything that makes sense. Yet the laughs come in carload lots right from the start, and by the time the lights come up again an hour later, you know you’ve been watching a show that is at once deliriously silly and darkly profound….

    “Banality is a symptom of non-communication,” Ionesco once remarked. “Men hide behind their clichés.” That insidious process of self-concealment is brought to life in “The Bald Soprano,” which he was inspired to write after he attempted to teach himself English out of a French-English phrase book. Out of its blandly stereotypical phrases he spun an anarchic fantasy about two married couples, a maid and a fireman who vainly attempt to break through the blank wall of polite convention that separates them from one another, only to find themselves trapped inside the conversation-book platitudes that they string together in long tendrils of illogic: “If you catch cold, you must wrap it up.” “It’s a useless precaution, but absolutely necessary.”

    I don’t speak French, so I can’t pronounce on the quality of Ms. Howe’s translation, but it certainly works on stage, especially as directed by Carl Forsman and performed by an ensemble cast whose members understand that there is nothing so delightful as watching serious-looking people utter meaningless statements with absolute conviction (Jan Maxwell, one of my favorite actresses, is especially good at it)….

    What you see in “Symphonie Fantastique” is one wall of a shallow glass tank into which five wet-suited puppeteers dip and slosh 180 peculiar-looking objects, none of which even remotely resembles Charlie McCarthy. Inspired by the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky and Berlioz’s own program for the “Fantastic Symphony,” Mr. Twist uses this equipment to conjure up a bewitching string of complex scenes that unfold with the nagging compulsion of a love story (which is what Berlioz’s symphony is, more or less). The puppeteers are hidden from view by a black wall, and the tank, which looks rather like a flat-screen television, is lit so cunningly and colorfully that you soon become disoriented and surrender joyously to the illusions being created before your amazed eyes.

    In the end, literal descriptions of what “happens” in “Symphonie Fantastique” must inevitably fall short of conveying its loony, inscrutable beauty….

    No link. You know what to do (and yes, you can always go to the library!).

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 24, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Our songs may not smell of sweat and the earth, but our rhymes, not just 'time' and 'mine,' not just 'wrong' and 'alone' or 'home,' are pure. Sure, when a line is great, you can skip the rhyme. But how many lines are that great?"

    Johnny Mercer (quoted in Gene Lees, Portrait of Johnny)

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 24, 2004 | Permanent link
Thursday, September 23, 2004
    TT: Just in case you were wondering

    It sure is nice to be back....

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 23, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Fortune cookie

    "There is a class of street-readers, whom I can never contemplate without affection—the poor gentry, who, not having wherewithal to buy or hire a book, filch a little learning at the open stalls—the owner, with his hard eye, casting envious looks at them all the while, and thinking when they will have done. Venturing tenderly, page after page, expecting every moment when he shall interpose his interdict, and yet unable to deny themselves the gratification, they 'snatch a fearful joy.'

    "Martin B., in this way, by daily fragments, got through two volumes of Clarissa, when the stall-keeper damped his laudable ambition, by asking him (it was in his younger days) whether he meant to purchase the work. M. declares, that under no circumstances in his life did he ever peruse a book with half the satisfaction which he took in those uneasy snatches."

    Charles Lamb, "Thoughts on Books and Reading" (1822)

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, September 23, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Teaser

    From From the Floor:

    Those of you who read Terry Teachout's blog About Last Night (and who doesn't?) are familiar with his Almanac feature--a choice quote of the day presented without contextual packaging.

    Today I'm launching my riff on Teachout's feature: The Anti-Almanac. These will be quotes I've come across that have made me stop reading and throw the book, journal, magazine, or newspaper across the room. I came up with the idea last night as I was browsing what looked like an interesting title in a used bookstore in Greenwich Village. When I read the following sentence, I closed the book, put it back on the shelf, and walked out of the shop.

    So, without further delay, today's anti-almanac….

    If you’re curious—and you damned well should be—go here to read Anti-Almanac No. 1.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 23, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: To be and not to be

    A reader writes, apropos of various postings on technological change and the e-book:

    I fall vigorously on both sides of this debate. These days, I do the majority of my reading on-screen. I even read a lot of fiction on my Pocket PC (a Viewsonic V35).

    But bookbinding is my hobby, and when I run across something I really like, something that isn't available in hard-copy, I haul up a word-processor and a publishing program, massage the text a bit for felicity (I maintain the old distinction between its and it's, even if the rest of the world is giving up) and print it out onto acid-free paper. And next thing you know, there it is between hardcovers, with a gold-stamped title.

    A hobbyist can only bind so many blank books, after all; and this way, something I think has lasting value is locked down out of reach of format change. And this, I suspect, is why books aren't going to vanish: they're immune to format change.

    Now there’s a true “About Last Night”-ist after my own heart!

    As for the role of the library in the age of the Web, another reader writes:

    I now live in Petticoat Junction. My house is bigger than our local library, and this ain't no McMansion. I may not own more books but I'm catching up quick. To top it off, the librarians hate me. Which is astounding to me. Everywhere else I've been, librarians have loved me. I'm an ideal patron. I borrow lots of books. I whisper. I pay my fines. I bring my kids in and have taught them all the proper library manners. But somehow I offended the staff here my first day in and they've never forgiven me.

    And still the library is a valuable resource for me. Because of inter- library loans.

    Our library belongs to an association of over a hundred libraries, all linked by a single computer system, so I can go online at home and borrow anything from any one of them, and have it show up here in a couple of days. Just another way the web has made life better in the analog as well as the virtual world.

    I've never had trouble getting hold of a single book or video.

    Except for A Terry Teachout Reader. Go figure.

    Well said.

    Oh, by the way, rumor has it that you can get hold of the Reader at amazon.com….

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 23, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Toward the future, gingerly

    Regular readers know that when I post excerpts from my Wall Street Journal drama columns each Friday morning, I always mention that the Journal provides no free link to my pieces and suggest two alternative options, buying a paper copy of the Journal or subscribing to the online edition.

    Apropos of this, a reader writes:

    Cause I don't read your blog every day & cause I don't stay home in front of a computer all day, I always find a third option to be most effective: going to the library.

    But hey, they don't still have those things, do they? Not since everyone went online, right?

    This posting made me laugh out loud, but it also reminded me of something I never think about anymore, which is that I stopped using public libraries a number of years ago. Don’t get me wrong: I love libraries. I worked in my high-school library (it was my first job, in fact), and I can’t count the hours I spent haunting big-city libraries as a young man. During the decade I spent working on The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken I had access to the closed stacks of the main branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, and I checked out books by the bagful.

    Alas, I no longer go to Baltimore each week, nor do I have access to the stacks of a university library, and the branch of the New York Public Library located in my neighborhood is roughly the size of the one in Smalltown, U.S.A., on which I cut my teeth forty years ago. When I need information, I now look first to the Web, then to my personal library, which is small but choice. Should those alternatives fail to satisfy me, I walk two blocks to a very large Barnes & Noble and explore its shelves. If that doesn’t do it, I do without, or order a used copy of the book in question from amazon.com.

    I wonder how common my experience is. It may well have less to do with the current state of library-going than with the fact that I live in New York City. Would I go to the library if there were a good one in my neighborhood? Probably—but I’m not so sure. When I was young I read in great shelf-emptying gulps, thereby accumulating the intellectual capital off which I’ve been living for the past quarter-century. Now I read far more selectively, concentrating on new titles, though I also re-read books habitually. I operate on the principle that any book worth reading more than twice is a book worth owning, and my shelves reflect that belief. I’m sure that the Web has cut down considerably on my library-related needs, but it may also be that libraries simply don’t have as much to offer me as they used to.

    Speaking of the Web, I mentioned yesterday that my anxiety-fraught upgrade to OS X made it possible for me to use iMusic, Apple’s Web-based “record store.” Since then, I’ve bought a couple of dozen songs at ninety-nine cents a pop. Most of the ones I downloaded were singles from the Sixties and Seventies that I still remembered with great fondness (Little Feat’s “Strawberry Flats,” Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”), together with a sprinkling of newer tunes that I’d heard in passing and wanted to own (Suzanne Vega’s “Caramel”). I also spent quite a bit of time looking through iMusic’s jazz section, which is surprisingly well-stocked, but at first glance I didn’t see anything I wanted that I didn’t already have. Frank Sinatra’s version of “Witchcraft,” the one pre-rock standard that I bought, is only available on Sinatra’s greatest-hits compilations, none of which I care to own.

    In short, iMusic has yet to work a revolution in my record-buying habits, no doubt because I’m too firmly entrenched in them to make any sudden changes at this point in my life. Anyone who owns 3,000 painstakingly shelved CDs is unlikely to throw them all away overnight. I expect that for the present, I’ll mostly keep on using iMusic the way I used it last night, buying old songs that I liked a long time ago and new songs by artists to whom my younger friends have drawn my attention. Still, it’ll be interesting to see whether my own attachment to the Album as Art Object now starts to diminish. I thought, for instance, of downloading Jonatha Brooke’s live album, but I decided to wait and buy the CD version instead. I’ll let you know as soon as I loosen up enough to buy a complete album from iMusic. That’ll be the day.

    P.S. Dear iTunes, would you please get with the program and make the Amazing Rhythm Aces' "Third-Rate Romance" available for downloading?

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 23, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Back from the grave

    Never turn an aesthete loose on a computer program that allows him to personalize his desktop. I was up last night fussing with my iBook until...well, I don't want to talk about it. But I can assure you that the typefaces on my icons are exquisitely appropriate!

    More to the point, I now appear to have made the jump to OS X without doing any significant damage to my person or sanity. I did lose a large part of my e-mail address file, but most of the people whose addresses went up the spout have responded to my urgent summons and written to me, so I think I've got a grip on that problem. Furthermore, early indications are that I won't have any problem writing pieces in the new version of Word that I'm running. Now all I have to do is import my mp3 files, and I'll be as happy as the day is long.

    In short, "About Last Night" will be returning to normal just as soon as I stop fussing with typefaces and start writing new posts. Thanks for your forbearance.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 23, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "No one lies so boldly as the man who is indignant."

    Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 23, 2004 | Permanent link
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
    TT: Number one, with a bullet!

    Harcourt just sent me the following e-mail about All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine:

    ALL IN THE DANCES receives a STARRED review in the October 1 Kirkus:

    "The writing is graceful, with a judicious use of primary sources, and Teachout movingly conveys his love for Balanchine's art in a short text that makes no pretense to be the last word but fulfills its author's intention that it serve as a layperson's introduction. The perfect first book to read about Balanchine, and intelligent enough to have value for more knowledgeable admirers as well."


    To preorder a copy, go here.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 22, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Paging Mr. Murphy (and Mr. Ludd)

    For someone who believes so strongly in the culture-changing potential of information-age technology, I’ve been oddly slow to embrace its successive twists and turns. I first used a computer for word processing some time around 1979, when the Kansas City Star told me that I had to start writing my concert reviews directly on its mainframe computing system rather than typing them on an IBM Selectric and having them scanned into the system optically. I was stunned—that really is the word for it—by my first encounter with word processing, and recognized at once that it would change every writer’s life for the better. I first used a personal computer in 1985, when I started writing my pieces on the PC of Harper’s Magazine after hours (and not infrequently on company time, too!). I bought an identical IBM computer two years later when I went to work for the New York Daily News, and used it for the next decade and a half.

    That was, needless to say, a long time between drinks, and my stubborn loyalty to my Pleistocene-age PC caused me to miss out on the early years of the Web. On the other hand, I wrote four books and hundreds of essays, articles, and reviews on it, and in the process it became something like an extension of my brain. Furthermore, I was working on The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken for much of that time, and was terrified at the prospect of changing word-processing systems in the middle of writing a long book. But even without The Skeptic, I had deadlines virtually every week, and I simply couldn’t imagine slamming on the brakes long enough to make the switch.

    By 1999 I was stalled on The Skeptic, and decided that I needed to take a sabbatical in order to jump-start my progress. The idea of walking away from my regular writing commitments was frightening in the extreme. Freelancers, even well-established ones, aren’t in the habit of turning down assignments. Still, I knew I had to do something, so I extracted promises of loyalty from to my editors (all of whom kept them, for which much thanks), shut down the shop, and spent the next six months working on The Skeptic. Actually, I should say that I spent five of the next six months working on The Skeptic, because I junked my PC at the beginning of the sabbatical, bought a Mac clone, had all my data translated from PC to Mac, and began using my new computer as soon as my archives were installed. I became reasonably comfortable with Word on Mac within a few weeks, but I pulled a lot of hair out during that first month, and I didn’t make much progress on The Skeptic, either. All things considered, the only good thing to be said for my sabbatical was that it spared me the grief of switching while simultaneously trying to hit weekly deadlines. That might have killed me.

    I bought an iBook two years ago and fell in love with it at first sight. Alas, by then I was doing more writing than ever, so instead of making the jump to Mac’s new operating system when I changed computers, I clung stubbornly to System 9.2, and stuck with it long after it was clear that I needed to switch to OS X. Eventually, though, the time came when I could stall no longer. I knew I wouldn’t have the luxury of taking a computer-related sabbatical, but I also knew I had to change horses, so I cleared out a whole week of my schedule—this one—and yesterday I installed the latest version of OS X.

    To be exact, I had a friend install it for me, a process that turned out to be fraught with every imaginable form of technological grief crammed into a single day. Fortunately, the ending came out happy, and I spent most of the wee hours fussing with my desktop and downloading music files, something I hadn’t been able to do before. (If you’re curious, the first song I bought from iMusic was Frank Sinatra’s “Witchcraft.”) The posting you're reading now is the first thing I’ve written on OS X except for e-mail. Tonight I’ll try my hand at a full-scale book review. All is not yet bliss—I haven’t yet imported my mp3 files to OS X, and I seem to have mislaid my e-mail address book—but I can already see that I should have switched to OS X the day I bought my iMac.

    Will that realization make me quicker to embrace the latest wrinkles in home computing? Probably not. My guess is that I came to information-age technology too late in life to ever become completely comfortable with it. I use it happily, but I don’t want to play with it, much less spend more than an absolute minimum of time learning how to use it in my day-to-day work. Aside from everything else, I’m too busy. I am, in fact, a near-ideal subject for experiments in user-friendliness: if I find a new technology easy to learn, so will the rest of the world.

    In retrospect, what surprises me is that I’ve ventured this far into the promised land. I don’t know anybody my age (I’m 48) who doesn’t use computers, but I know lots of people in the generation just before me who never quite managed to integrate them into their daily lives. When I worked for the New York Daily News in the late Eighties, for example, the editor of the paper ostentatiously kept a manual typewriter on his desk. I suspect he was motivated by the same class-conscious vanity that supposedly led members of the French royalty to wear pants without pockets (why did they need pockets when they had servants?). Fortunately, my boss at the News, Michael Pakenham, was a technophile who was determined to get the hang of computers or die trying, and it was at his insistence that I bought my first PC—it was, in fact, a condition of going to work for him. Similarly, I didn’t switch from dial-up to cable modems until well after I launched this blog, just as I didn’t start using e-mail until The Wall Street Journal informed me several years ago that it wanted me to start sending my pieces to the paper that way.

    By now at least a few of you must be smiling at the presumptuousness that allows me to predict the inevitability of technology-driven cultural change when I myself am so reluctant to embrace it in my personal life. I got an e-mail the other day that made a related point about one of my recent postings, albeit in a kindly way:

    Why does book format have to be one or the other? Why can't both forms, physical paper books and ebooks, exist side by side?

    I enjoy reading news, articles, blogs, etc online. But I want an actual physical paper book in my hands when it's a cold rainy night and I curl up on the couch with a cup of tea, a blanket, the cat, some good music (from any format!) etc.

    I don't think that will ever go away.

    People still ride horses for pleasure, and a very small number of people even still use draft horses for work. Horses didn't disappear altogether, even though we've had cars for so long.

    Instruments haven't disappeared, even though we have synthesized music now (perhaps they might? but c'mon, who wants to dance zydeco to a synthesized accordion?).

    Sailboats and bicycles exist, even though motorboats and motorbikes have been around for a long time now.

    I think humanity's love, and sometimes gut-level need, of tactile senses will keep all these things around for centuries to come.

    But then, that's just me, the gal who re-reads paper books until they fall apart.

    Needless to say (I hope!), I agree with all this. I am, after all, the drama critic who once wrote that live theater is an “obsolete technology”! Which it is—but I doubt that will ever stop small groups of people from succumbing to its ephemeral magic. At least I hope it won’t. Still, there’s a big difference between curling up on the couch with a handsomely bound book and continuing to write 5,000-word essays with a fountain pen, something nobody in his right mind would think of doing.

    For some reason I seem to have a knack for intuiting the large-scale cultural effects of technologies I have yet to adopt. I understood what digital downloading would do to the recording industry years before I downloaded my first piece of iMusic. Yet I wish I were more comfortable with those technologies, which may simply be another way of saying that I wish I were ten years younger. Or perhaps not: I’ve always known that part of me is inclined by temperament to live in the past, and the fact that I don’t never fails to strike me as something of a minor miracle. For that I thank my younger friends (a category that by now includes most of the people to whom I am closest, Our Girl in Chicago very much included), all of whom seem collectively determined to keep me from slipping into that mindset so neatly captured by Evelyn Waugh in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold:

    His strongest tastes were negative. He abhorred plastics, Picasso, sunbathing and jazz—everything in fact that had happened in his own lifetime. The tiny kindling of charity which came to him through his religion sufficed only to temper his disgust and change it to boredom. There was a phrase in the ‘thirties: “It is later than you think,” which was designed to cause uneasiness. It was never later than Mr. Pinfold thought.

    I hope I never fall into that self-strangling trap, just as I hope I never succumb to the equally reflexive neophilia that sometimes blights the declining years of people who long desperately to seem younger than they are. I know exactly how old I am, and I don’t care who else knows it. Usually.

    On which sober note I think I’ll bring this posting to a close. I still have a lot more to learn about OS X, and other things to do as well. What’s more, my e-mailbox is filling up with messages from friends who read my cri du coeur this morning and have hastened to write me. To all of you I offer this encouraging word: I may be middle-aged, but I ain’t a Luddite yet!

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 22, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    “It is not a lucky word, this impossible; no good comes of those that have it often in their mouth.”

    Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 22, 2004 | Permanent link
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
    TT: Late-night update

    I seem to be functioning again, albeit clumsily (I'm learning my way around an upgraded operating system) and with one little problem, which is that I no longer have any of my e-mail addresses. The good news is that my snail-mail address file survived the switch, but for the moment and possibly for longer, the chances are high that I don't have your e-mail address.

    To repeat and reiterate this morning's posting:

    If you are a personal friend, editor, or professional colleague, please send an e-mail to my home address (not the "About Last Night" mailbox!) as soon as you see this message. It will help me reconstitute my e-mail address file in the short run, which is when I need it.

    Don't assume I have your address!

    I look forward to hearing from you, sigh....

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 21, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Attention, all correspondents, editors, etc.

    I'm in the middle of a computer meltdown. For now, probably for the rest of the day, and possibly for longer than that, I no longer have access to my address files, either e-mail or snail mail (including all my telephone numbers). As a result, do not expect to hear from me today.

    If you are a personal friend or professional colleague who sees this posting and needs to get in touch with me, send an e-mail to my home address (i.e., not to my "About Last Night" mailbox).

    I'll be back when I'm back.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 21, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Today's the day

    The dreaded computer maintenance session is now set for first thing Tuesday morning. You'll be hearing from me again someday, if I survive....

    Like I said before, later.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 21, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "There are two things that I hate: analysis and power. A conductor can avoid neither the one nor the other. Conducting's not for me."

    Sviatoslav Richter (quoted in Bruno Monsaingeon, Sviatoslav Richter: Notebooks and Conversations)

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 21, 2004 | Permanent link
Monday, September 20, 2004
    TT: Scratch one ostrich

    From the Washington Post:

    For years, postal officials denied that e-mail would change their world. Now, faced with declining letter volume -- in 2003, first-class mail dropped by 3.3 billion pieces -- the Postal Service has finally realized that its right to a monopoly on first-class letters probably isn't worth the paper the Congress wrote it on in 1794. "All types of correspondence mail have declined over time," said a recently released household mail survey by the Postal Service. "Most notable, however, is the decline in personal correspondence between households."…

    First-class letters…have underwritten the Postal Service's hefty institutional costs for decades.

    Trouble is, as the President's Commission on the U.S. Postal Service reported last year, Aunt Minnie isn't writing that many letters these days. Indeed, letter writers are a dying breed. Younger families are writing even less than their parents did, the Postal Service says. They probably depend on the Internet for communications that used to be part of the postal monopoly. More troublesome for the Postal Service's bottom line, business-to-business mail is also falling….

    It doesn't take much analysis to realize, as the presidential commission did, that the Postal Service is facing a crisis unlike any since its founding in 1775 by the Second Continental Congress. Mail volume is likely to keep declining, the panel said, while the big agency's costs, most of them directly linked to 700,000 employees who handle the mail, will continue to soar.

    As I read this story, I thought, Boy, does this have a familiar ring. Which, of course, it did: it’s also the story of the classical recording industry, and the heart of the matter can be found in the very first sentence. Deny, deny, deny—while the economic basis of your old-fashioned way of doing business crumbles beneath your feet.

    Such is the way in which countless industries have quietly rotted away over the centuries. The difference is that in the information age, the rot spreads infinitely faster.

    Now that CBS is finally admitting that Dan Rather was suckered by badly forged documents, long after that fact was incontrovertibly established by bloggers, you can see the process thrown into uniquely high relief. In this particular case, it played out over a period of less than two weeks, which doesn’t sound like much—but if you were following the story at all closely, it felt as if CBS had been denying the obvious for months, to painful and devastating effect.

    This is a classic example of what Mickey Kaus has dubbed "the Feiler Faster Thesis":

    The news cycle is much faster these days, thanks to 24-hour cable, the Web, a metastasized pundit caste constantly searching for new angles, etc. As a result, politics is able to move much faster, too, as our democracy learns to process more information in a shorter period and to process it comfortably at this faster pace. Charges and countercharges fly faster, candidates' fortunes rise and fall faster, etc.

    The fly in the ointment is that older, more cautious institutions unwilling or unable to adjust to the faster pace made possible by digital information technology are likely to get stampeded. That means old media—but it also means cultural institutions that refuse to think through the implications of new technologies, much less embrace them wholeheartedly. I watched the classical recording industry implode, predicting in print at regular intervals that it would do so. Now I’m wondering when the next column will fall.

    Here’s something from today’s Wall Street Journal (no free link, alas) that caught my eye. It’s the latest "Real Time" column by Tim Hanrahan and Jason Fry:

    As the digital age marches on, we find ourselves asking a question we never imagined: What will happen to all our stuff?

    The music CD is already disappearing from our lives. Years ago Jace ripped his large CD collection into MP3s and banished the physical CDs to boxes now cluttering up a closet. (Having a baby son who loved hurtling CDs onto the floor accelerated this move.) Today he buys music online whenever he can – reading liner notes in those little CD booklets is no fun anyway. Tim hasn't started buying music online, but won't buy new CDs because they seem a technological dead end, like buying a record in the mid-1990s. And we know we're not alone – ride the subway in Manhattan and you'll find the various flavors of iPods far outnumbering Discmen. (To say nothing of the once-ubiquitous, now-vanished cassette player.)

    This got us thinking: Once we subtract CDs – and goofy CD towers and shelves – from our wide-ranging collections of stuff, will books, newspapers and other physical things follow? What about the oppressive tonnage of all the other old media?…

    Hanrahan and Fry point to DVDs, newspapers, and photos on paper as examples of physical "stuff" likely to disappear fairly shortly. Interestingly, though, they take a conservative line on books:

    Ebooks have been nonstarters for a host of reasons. There have been format woes and troubles with "form factor," which is a complicated way of saying that it's nicer to curl up in a big chair with a paperback than with a PalmPilot or a plastic reader gadget….

    Also, to many people, books have value beyond the information they contain. Unlike music or movies, books haven't undergone a real format change in centuries – a book from 1968 is still obviously a book and can be read instantly like any other book: not so, in most cases, for an eight-track tape, a reel of film or a box of slides. Unlike newspapers, they have value beyond a few days – books are things to be kept.

    As regular readers know, I don’t agree. I think the days of the printed book are numbered, though the number is probably higher than many futurologists think:

    I’m open, at least in theory, to the possibility of abandoning the book-as-art-object, just as I’ve already taken the first step toward abandoning the album-as-art-object. Other people may not be so open to either possibility. I have a number of over-50 friends who say they don’t read "About Last Night" because they "can’t" read text on a screen—which means, of course, that they find it inconvenient. Not me. I don’t read books on my iBook, but I do read virtually all magazine and newspaper articles that way, as well as the blogs that now occupy a fast-growing part of my reading time. It would never occur to me to print out an article (or a blog entry) and read it in the bathtub....

    Yes, the printed book is a beautiful object, "elegant" in both the aesthetic and mathematical senses, and its invention was a pivotal moment in the history of Western culture. But it is also a technology—a means, not an end.

    Of course I may be wrong. But the point is that if you aren’t willing even to contemplate the possibility that the way you do what you do may be rendered obsolete by technology, you’re a sitting duck for somebody else in the same line of work who, like it or not, is prepared to think about the unthinkable.

    People often ask me why I go to the trouble of blogging, given the fact that I have access to blue-chip traditional print media outlets. I always give a variation on the same answer: I concluded a number of years ago that serious arts coverage and commentary were destined over time to migrate to the Web, which is a more cost-effective way of servicing niche markets, and that I wanted to establish a beachhead in the blogosphere early enough to be seen as a new-media pioneer rather than just another middle-aged print-media writer who got caught in the stampede to the Web.

    A lot of middle-aged writers I know think I’m wasting my time blogging, especially since I don’t get paid for it. Of course they may be right. But the U.S. Postal Service thought Aunt Minnie would live forever—and now it’s going down the drain. The major classical labels thought they could ignore the long-term implications of digital recording—and now they’re reduced to making crossover albums, the classical equivalent of smooth jazz. A septuagenarian anchorman thought he could ignore the sniping of the blogosphere—and now he’s being forced to spend the twilight of a long, prestigious career eating rancid crow in an election year.

    That’s not my idea of fun. This is.

    P.S. Alex Ross has a highly relevant discussion of the Web sites of American symphony orchestras—and what they tell us about the comparative ability of those orchestras to adapt to the new cultural landscape. And Jeff Jarvis considers the Rather fiasco from a similar point of view.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 20, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Fortune cookie

    "There comes a day, in the ripe maturity of late summer, when you first detect a suggestion of the season to come; often as subtle as a play of evening light against familiar bricks, or the drift of a few brown leaves descending, it signals imminent release from savage heat and intemperate growth. You anticipate cool, misty days, and a slow, comely decadence in the order of the natural. Such a day now dawned; and my pale northern soul, in its pale northern breast, quietly exulted as the earth slowly turned its face from the sun."

    Patrick McGrath, "The Angel"

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Monday, September 20, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Do not adjust your set

    I’ll be doing some long-delayed computer-related maintenance today and/or tomorrow. Blogging from New York is likely to be light. As for Chicago, there’s no telling—I haven’t heard from Our Girl. We’ll see.


    UPDATE: As you can see above, I managed to get one last posting in under the wire. Nevertheless, I'm not kidding!

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 20, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "We live this life by a kind of conspiracy of grace: the common assumption, or pretense, that human existence is ’good’ or ‘matters’ or has ‘meaning,’ a glaze of charm or humor by which we conceal from one another and perhaps even ourselves the suspicion that it does not, and our conviction in times of trouble that it is overpriced—something to be endured rather than enjoyed."

    Peter De Vries, The Blood of the Lamb

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 20, 2004 | Permanent link
Saturday, September 27, 2003
    More on Plimpton

    I like this remembrance, too.

    And a friend emails:

    You just know...

    George: Ed! Great to see you! Listen, I'm starting a little journal, and I'd love to have something from you for the first issue.

    Ed: Uh, George, can I have a week or two to get settled here?

    Like I said, unsinkable.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Saturday, September 27, 2003 | Permanent link
Friday, September 26, 2003
    The two West Wings?

    New York Times writer Bill Carter two days ago on "The West Wing":

    Mr. Sorkin had gained a reputation as an idiosyncratic creative mind whose writing—full of intricate, dense dialogue spoken by unusually intelligent and passionate characters—was unique to television.

    And, Wall Street Journal critic Dorothy Rabinowitz today, comparing Rob Lowe's new series "The Lion's Den" to his old one, the selfsame "West Wing":

    Mr. Lowe should be feeling quite at home with...the familiar beat of sniffy one-liners being batted out among members of the law firm's staff—all much like the verbal potshots pinging and ponging and generally passing as human speech in "The West Wing."

    Are these critics watching the same show? Under close reading, actually, their characterizations of the show's dialogue aren't all that far apart—it's just that Carter appears to think that unrealistic dialogue is some kind of achievement.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, September 26, 2003 | Permanent link
    A literary Lion, literally

    George Plimpton seemed as unsinkable as anyone. As shocking as it was to hear this morning of his death, it was almost as surprising to realize that he was 76. I call it surprising not because I expected him to be much younger, but because his protean identity made him someone I never thought of as having a particular age at all.

    If the first obituaries are any indication, it will be first and foremost as the author of Paper Lion that Plimpton is remembered. It's no mean distinction, and the book is well worth revisiting. But you could do worse, too, than to visit the Paris Review and remember Plimpton in the round.

    UPDATE: Sports blogger extraordinaire Eric McErlain has a nice tribute.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, September 26, 2003 | Permanent link
    Good morning from Chicago...

    ...and thanks for stopping by in Terry's absence! You did remember that Terry would be absent and OGIC sitting in, didn't you? Of course you did.

    Since Terry was kind enough to introduce me yesterday, I'm not going to say too much up here. A newcomer to blogging, I've been discovering that it involves long stretches of not knowing what to write, punctuated by long stretches of not knowing when to shut up. This seems like as good an opportunity as any to rein it in.

    But before I quiet down and move along, I do need to cover a few items. First, the unthinkable happened last night and Terry's hard drive crashed! It's getting the best possible attention while he's in North Carolina, and the prognosis is guardedly optimistic. This may result in a few breaks in the About Last Night routine next week, but this blog will be open for business in some form. So please check in Monday for an update.

    Second, I'm hoping to update the page throughout today, with fresh links and quick posts every little while, so do check back with me later.

    I hope you enjoy this as much as I have so far, and I hope to hear from some of you. I think you can email me at ourgirlinchicago@artsjournal.com. But there's only one way to find out for sure...

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, September 26, 2003 | Permanent link
    Didja hear the one about 9/11?

    Terry (remember him?) asked me to let you know that he reviewed Omnium Gatherum and Bill Irwin's The Harlequin Studies in this morning's Wall Street Journal. Here's the first paragraph:

    As I watched "Omnium Gatherum," the satirical play about 9/11 that opened last night at the Variety Arts Theatre, a fractured Bible verse ran through my head: It is impossible but that 9/11 plays will come; but woe to them, through whom they come! On the one hand, many American playwrights feel a near-irresistible itch to write about current events, and given the fact that the most significant event of the current century took place four miles south of the theater district, it stood to reason that plays about it would follow as the sparks flew upward. (Another one, "Recent Tragic Events," opens Sunday.) On the other hand, few American playwrights have anything thoughtful to say about current events, so it also stands to reason that most such plays are bound to be pretty awful. "Omnium Gatherum" sure is....

    No link, as usual, so go out and buy a copy of the Journal, why dontcha? It only costs a dollar!

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, September 26, 2003 | Permanent link
    Running into a poet

    So you're walking along a city street, minding your own business, and you run smack into Robert Hass or Seamus Heaney. Quick, what do you do? Realistically, if you're 99.9% of the population, including me, you look daggers at the guy and go away swearing under your breath.

    If you're me and if by some miracle you do recognize one of the best-read poets of our time, you probably—knowing me—help him up, dust him off, and scamper away red-faced.

    Not so Sheri Donatti, the artist-girlfriend Anatole Broyard shared an apartment with as recounted in his lean, zippy Greenwich Village memoir Kafka Was the Rage. On West Fourth Street in 1946, Sheri crashed into W.H. Auden:

    She fell backward, and as she did, she grabbed Auden around the neck and they went down together, with him on top.… She clung to Auden, who was sprawled in her arms. He tried desperately to rise, scrabbling with his hands and his espadrilles on the floor. He was babbling incoherently, apologizing and expostulating at the same time, while she smiled at me over his shoulder, like a woman dancing.

    Besides making me laugh, this passage always strikes me in two sobering ways. First, it takes for granted the celebrity of poets. Second, it seems to presciently emblematize the way poetry readers find themselves, more and more, holding onto the form and its cultural currency for dear life.

    Poets, of course, have some control over their own cultural currency. We can argue (and probably will, eventually) about whether Buffy the Vampire Slayer is art, but this poem by Stephen Burt (it's the second of three on the page), inspired by BTVS, certainly is. You should read Burt's fine Randall Jarrell biography, too.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, September 26, 2003 | Permanent link
    The trouble with readings

    I don’t have a history of enjoying literary readings. Maybe it’s the perfectly excusable deficiency of many writers as performers. Maybe it’s my slavery to the modern way of treating reading as a solitary, private activity (preferably conducted under a nice warm comforter, as far as I’m concerned) and a positive respite from other people, rather than a nineteenth-century, communal, gather-round-the-fireplace sort of affair.

    Whatever it is, I just don’t have fun at these events. A semi-recent exception was a mesmerizing reading by Kathleen Finneran from her exquisite memoir The Tender Land two years ago—great not because she's a master thespian but because her book is so astonishingly powerful and personal, and she was as much under its spell as any of us in the audience.

    After that I didn’t want to press my luck—until this Wednesday, when I decided to attend a neighborhood reading by a certain torrid young writer whose first book was pretty great and who just published her first novel. Here I relearned my lesson.

    Things started 20 minutes late. The mike did not work. We were in the back row and could hear just enough, before we reluctantly bolted, to divine that: 1) the professor who was introducing the author had bought her novel a few days earlier and read half of it; 2) he thought it was o.k. to admit this in front of the author and a few hundred people; and 3) he wasn’t going to cede the stage anytime soon. The last straw came when he started reading from the novel, which could tend to, you know, be redundant with the reading itself. It was the sort of thing that could put you off readings for life...

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, September 26, 2003 | Permanent link
    But hope springs eternal

    Despite this fresh catastrophe, I may yet turn up to hear Charles Baxter read from his new novel Saul and Patsy next week, and if you're in my neck of the woods you should consider attending too. I met Baxter half a lifetime ago when he graciously came to speak to the staff of my high school's literary magazine. Harmony of the World and Through the Safety Net provided some of the first contemporary short stories that I really loved. The lead story in Harmony of the World has a delicious first paragraph that should give all of Terry's music-loving readers (are you still out there?) a good bracing shudder:

    While Kate practiced the piano in the tiny third-floor apartment, Wiley cooked dinner, jogging in place in front of the stove. His feet made the pans clatter, and, after twenty minutes of exercise, he began to hyperventilate. He stopped, took his pulse, then continued, jogging to the spice rack, to the refrigerator’s butter shelf, then back to the stove. The air smelled of cumin, chicken stock, and tomatoes—something Mexican. The noise was terrible. He knocked over a spatula. A bottle of soda fell into the catfood dish. Worse yet, he hummed tunes from his high school prom days, melodies like “Call Me Mister Blue” and “Dream Lover,” in a nasal, plaintive whine. The noise diverted Kate’s attention and broke her Schubert sonatas into small pieces of musical trash.

    I'm eager to return to Baxter after a long time away. He is part of the reason I still keep up with short story collections despite a growing preference for novels. I just wait for the paperbacks and hope for something as startling and transcendent as, say, Adam Johnson's Emporium.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, September 26, 2003 | Permanent link
    Q. What are bunnies run amok?

    A. The faunal feature common to Chicago’s Grant Park and the airports of Paris, of course.
    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, September 26, 2003 | Permanent link
    Carnage in Chicago

    In my quest to smuggle sports news into About Last Night disguised as arts news, I get a little help from Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin this week. Living in the vicinity of several Frank Lloyd Wright houses (there’s one I pass daily on the way to work), I took interest in the recent discussion about the habitability of his homes, especially this vivid report from the front lines. But Wright and domestic architecture aren’t the ones getting buildings on the front page in Chicago these days.

    It's the stadium, stupid—and Pulitzer winner Kamin rightly damns the rebuilt Soldier Field, age-old home of Chicago's pro football team, in an aesthetically incensed review, shot through with a healthy dose of populism. Aside from "visual carnage," "a hideous compromise," and "a horrific eyesore," he finds it to be something like the opposite of a Wright house: hell on the outside observer, but comfy-cozy for the lucky few who get to sit inside. You can see it for yourself on the next installment of Monday Night Football, when the Bears will break in their controversial new digs against the Green Bay Packers. It will be interesting to try to determine how tight a muzzle the NFL will have put on the ABC commentators, who might not be able to recognize a blot on the landscape when they see one anyway.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, September 26, 2003 | Permanent link
    Serve it forth

    It’s great news that Julie Powell, the woman who cooked everything in Julia Child’s legendary tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year flat, cursing all the way, now has a book contract. It’s even better news that the contract is what she calls an “obscene” one. You can still read “The Julie/Julia Project” on line in the archives of Julie’s blog, even though she accomplished her mission earlier this month. I originally went to the site for the cooking but stayed—and stayed and stayed—for the writing. Julie is irreverent, irrepressible, and insightful about much more than just clafoutis and kidneys. Read her before her new publisher makes her pull the archives!

    If it comes to that, of course, there’s always the unmatchable M.F.K. Fisher to help you bide the time.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, September 26, 2003 | Permanent link
Thursday, September 25, 2003
    Enough about me

    As you know, I won’t be here tomorrow—I am, in fact, leaving town later today to fly down to Raleigh, N.C., to spend the weekend snarfing down barbecue and looking at Carolina Ballet—and since it happens that I’ll also be gone twice more after that, speechifying in Connecticut and St. Louis, I had the bright idea of inviting one of my faithful guest bloggers to run things on Fridays for the next three weeks.

    To this end, I have handed the keys to Our Girl in Chicago. Beneath her cloak of pseudonymity, Our Girl (who lives, duh, in Chicago) is a sweet and lovely young thing, wise and good, who…but why listen to me? Here’s the Girl herself:

    OGIC is a thirty-something dilettante (in the best sense of the word, she hopes) with experience as an editor, critic, graduate student, and teacher. Naturally drawn to the medium-hot centers of this world, she is a fierce advocate of her adopted Second City but still feels at home when she visits her one-time stomping grounds of Manhattan. A serious media addiction helps her keeps close tabs on the red-hot from her comfy but happening city by the lake. She worries she should shoulder more guilt about her guilty pleasures—which include pro hockey, cop and lawyer shows, Las Vegas, and the colorful adventures of Travis McGee—but they're all just so damn pleasurable. More presentably, she's into Romantic poetry, Henry James, landscape painting, modern dance (with and without shoes, if you know what she means), and Edward Gorey. But she's not always sure she doesn't have some of those items in the wrong column.

    OGIC's blogging may, how shall we say, somewhat leaven the mix here at "About Last Night" with more pop culture and specifically Buffy references—well, she’ll try to keep those under control. Besides the inevitable fluff, OGIC will blog a lot about literary topics: writing, reading, publishing, reviewing, history, reputations. She's especially excited about using ABL as a venue for enthusing out loud about overlooked or forgotten books that she loves. That said, she's certainly not above the occasional snipe (no, she's not using that other s-word) when sniping is called for—and let's face it, sometimes it really is called for.

    See what I mean?

    The rest of today’s posts are mine, but Our Girl in Chicago will be taking charge at 12:01 tonight, and all postings committed on Friday will be entirely her fault. (Aside from being more charmingly written than mine, OGIC’s postings will be signed "ourgirlinchicago," just as mine are signed "terryteachout.")

    I’ll be back on Monday morning, slightly the worse for wear but as aesthetic as ever. In the meantime…you go, Girl!

    Now for today’s topics, from tremulous to self-confident: (1) Fading photographs. (2) Ronald Reagan, man of letters. (3) Somebody else’s bag. (4) The latest almanac entry.

    Over to you, OGIC! I’m out of here….

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 25, 2003 | Permanent link
    Going, going

    Courtesy of artsjournal.com, my invaluable host, a story from The Art Newspaper about a problem rarely considered by anyone other than museum conservators:

    All colour photographs fade. According to best estimates, the average colour print has a shelf life of about 200 years. Now, in Basel, Switzerland, the Cesar Foundation, chaired by Claudio Cesar, an American photography collector who runs a company that specialises in coloured glass is trying to reverse this deterioration….

    The problem is that the materials of c-print colour photography, chemical reactants which create the image, are complex organic compounds which are unstable and decompose over a long period. Unlike the constituents of black and white photographs or oil paints, the ingredients of c-prints continue to undergo chemical reactions in perpetuity rather than stabilise….

    The Cesar Foundation is proposing a two-part solution. First, photographs should be stored in digital form, so that a new copy can be printed when the original fades. Second, the foundation’s scientists have invented a software programme and device that scans non-digital, "normal" colour photographs which have aged, and then prints off a version which restores the original colour.

    (To read the whole thing, go here.)

    I almost hate to bring up Frank Lloyd Wright again, but reading this story made me think of Fallingwater, the Wright house whose conservators have had to work fearfully hard to keep from collapsing. Commenting on this in an earlier post, I asked, "Is a great painting less great because it makes use of innovative but chemically unstable pigments that change over time?" I had at the back of my mind the awkward but undeniable fact—astutely pointed out by the neo-Thomist philosopher Etienne Gilson in his remarkable little book Painting and Reality—that all paintings are evanescent, due in the fullness of time first to fade, then to disintegrate. This basic fact of art is one nobody likes to admit, much less think about. A similar discomfort is now inspiring choreographers and their companies to struggle mightily (and honorably, though not always successfully) to preserve dances far beyond what once would have been their normal life span. It has also led museum conservators to engage in heroic acts of preservation—and, not infrequently, in ill-considered acts of mutilation.

    Exactly what are such folk trying to preserve? Sometimes it’s all too clear that a collector’s interests are fiduciary—that he wants to maintain the value of an object for which he may have paid dearly. More often, though, I think their intentions are reasonably pure. If we think a house or painting or photograph or ballet is beautiful, we want it with us always. But the catch is that the more pieces of the past we succeed in preserving, the less space and time we have in which to display and contemplate the present. Too many lovers of art live exclusively in the past. I understand the temptation—I feel it myself—but it strikes me that we have an obligation to keep one eye fixed in the moment, and that becomes a lot harder to do when you’re pulling a long, long train of classics of which the new is merely the caboose. Needless to say, this is a problem without a solution. The only thing you can do is fiddle with the proportions and try to get them right, or at least righter.

    For what it’s worth, I currently own 13 pieces of visual art, all but two of them works on paper—etchings, lithographs, screenprints. Of these, six are by living artists, two of whom I know. I won’t say that’s a perfect average, but I do think I’ve put at least some of my money where my mouth is.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 25, 2003 | Permanent link
    A thousand holographs

    I’ve been looking through Reagan: A Life in Letters, a book whose publication will no doubt startle a lot of people unaware that Ronald Reagan was the most prolific presidential correspondent of modern times. I’m not talking about the kind of "letter" produced in batch lots by a team of secretaries equipped with autopens, either. Of the 1,100 letters in this 934-page book, some 80% were written by hand, another 15% dictated. The editors had "over 5,000 genuine Reagan letters" to choose from, and they estimate that another 5,000 or so have yet to surface.

    Put aside for a moment your opinion of Reagan (either way) and think instead about the implications of those numbers. Speaking as a biographer, I can assure you that this is an extraordinarily large number of letters to have been written by any public figure, much less one who wasn’t a professional writer—though Reagan, as it happens, spent a number of years writing his own speeches, radio commentaries, and syndicated columns, and would also have been perfectly capable of writing his own memoirs without assistance had he been so inclined. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other 20th-century president who left behind so large a body of informal writing, and few who wrote as much in any medium. Theodore Roosevelt, probably Nixon, possibly Calvin Coolidge (who was, believe it or not, the best by-his-own-hand presidential prose stylist in modern times), and…who else? Nobody comes to mind.

    On paper, Reagan was unselfconscious, fluent, surprisingly candid, and rarely eloquent—most of his best-remembered speeches were written by other people, and I doubt that anything in Reagan: A Life in Letters will make it into the next edition of Bartlett’s. Still, I have no doubt whatsoever that his next biographer will quarry this volume assiduously. I’m about to start work on a biography of another non-writer, Louis Armstrong, who left behind a large body of correspondence, and I can tell you that the existence of Armstrong’s letters (of which several hundred have been preserved) is one of the main reasons why I decided to write a book about him. It’s hard to write about the great jazz musicians of the past precisely because they rarely left behind that kind of material. Unless they happened to be interviewed on tape by intelligent, well-informed journalists (of which there aren’t nearly enough) or deposed for oral-history projects, we have few if any reliable documents of the way they expressed themselves off stage. We only know them from their work, and while that’s the most important thing, it doesn’t tell you everything a biographer wants and needs to know.

    Beyond this, of course, the mere fact that Reagan chose to put so much energy, even as president, into corresponding with friends, colleagues, and plain old pen pals is fascinating in and of itself. So is the introduction to Reagan: A Life in Letters, in which the editors describe his letter-writing routine in some detail. As I worked on The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken, I never ceased to be astonished by the sheer volume of Mencken’s correspondence, and I couldn’t help but wonder how he managed to churn out so many letters while simultaneously functioning as a full-time writer. I’m even more mystified that Reagan wrote all those personal letters—most of them by hand—while serving as president.

    I also can’t help but wonder how the next generation of biographers will approach the next generation of subjects, now that e-mail has essentially replaced snail mail (and now that public officials are routinely warned not to keep diaries for fear that they’ll be subpoenaed in court cases). I wonder, too, whether there will ever again be so self-revealing a politician as Ronald Reagan, though that seems an odd word to use about a man whose colleagues all found him difficult to know. Peggy Noonan thought so, too, and offered a plausible explanation of his opaqueness in her deft life of Reagan, When Character Was King:

    Ronald Reagan once had deep friendships and close friends. He had men who knew all about him, but by the time he’d reached the presidency they were dead. He’d outlived them.

    True enough, I suspect, but not the whole truth. Could it be that Reagan was simply more comfortable writing to people than talking to them? I don’t know—I never met him—but henceforth, anyone who tries to make sense of Reagan the man will have to start by explaining the very existence of these letters.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 25, 2003 | Permanent link
    Enough already!

    To all of you who wrote identifying "Today's Installment" as Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find, my congratulations. (I even lured a couple of fellow bloggers out of the woodwork!) If I do this again, I'll choose something considerably trickier.

    A special prize for sheer unscrupulousness goes to Kevin Joyce, who wrote:

    Doesn't everyone know about Google now? I found the author, and story, in ten seconds by typing "orange sports section" and clicking Search. Not to take anything away from Ms. Carew et al., but next time, please keep us honest and find an unGooglable source.

    What a scamp.

    By the way, nobody wrote to say that they remembered the one-sentence-at-a-time serialization of Ulysses in The New Yorker. I can't even begin to tell you how old that makes me feel.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 25, 2003 | Permanent link

    "Admiration, n.: Our polite recognition of another's resemblance to ourselves."

    Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 25, 2003 | Permanent link
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
    Quick, before it melts

    Things are silting up here as I prepare for my long weekend in Raleigh (I have two more pieces to write before I can get on the plane and go), so I’ll be keeping it fairly short. Today’s topics, from testy to zesty: (1) Zankel Hall reviewed—by other people. (2) "Today’s Installment" explained, sort of. (3) Today’s installment. (4) Last night’s playlist. (5) The latest almanac entry.

    You know what I want. You know who you are. You know what to do.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 24, 2003 | Permanent link

    I haven’t been back to Zankel Hall since the media preview concert—unlike the music critics, I have other things to do—but I’ve been keeping a close eye on what’s been written about New York City’s newest concert hall since it opened a couple of weeks ago. Generally speaking, the reviews accord pretty well with what I said about the hall here and on NPR’s Performance Today. In brief, most critics like the design but are variously skeptical about the acoustics. Beyond that, the consensus is all over the place, sort of like a drunken ballerina.

    Unlike certain well-known bloggers, I’m disinclined to trash my print-media colleagues (I have to live with them, after all), but I do want to make a few, ahem, general observations about what’s been written up to now:

    (1) Most critics have discussed the appearance of the hall without attempting to evaluate its functionality. Were the seats comfortable? Are the aisles wide enough? How hard is it to get in and out of the place? Will the interior design wear well—and does it seem to have any effect on the perceived acoustics? These folk are henceforth on Double Secret Probation, and will be watched closely for further signs of shortsightedness.

    (2) A few critics had nothing whatsoever to say about the acoustics, or commented on them without drawing any distinction between the differing responses of the hall to amplified and unamplified sound. These clowns get the Lifetime Booby Prize—a dunce hat, nailed on their heads—and are permanently disqualified from any further discussion of Zankel Hall.

    (3) Most critics (but not all!) at least mentioned the subway noise that leaks into the hall during performances, and one, Barbara Jepson in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (go here to read her piece), singled it out for extensive and unfavorable comment, suggesting that until the noise can be lessened significantly, the success of the hall must remain in doubt. Good for her. (In fact, I fear the noise problem will become more obtrusive over time, not less.)

    I might add that at least one Carnegie Hall head, and probably several, should be gently lowered to the chopping block at the earliest opportunity. Anybody who didn’t think noise wouldn’t be a huge problem in a hall that is nine feet from the nearest subway tunnel is a quarterwit.

    (4) Nearly everybody has praised Zankel Hall’s multicultural programming to the skies. In my opinion, it’s sucker bait for the print media. I’m not saying the programs aren’t good—some are, some aren’t—but come on, folks, this is New York City, where every imaginable kind of music can already be heard all over town. Not only are performing arts centers soooooo Seventies, but Manhattan was the biggest and best performing arts center in the world long before Zankel Hall switched on its escalators. In any case, presenting a lot of different kinds of art in one place doesn’t make any of them any better. Does Emmylou Harris need a Good Housekeeping seal of approval from Carnegie Hall to be considered the greatest country singer of her generation? Puh-leeze. And just because the (mostly classical) critics who’ve been writing about Zankel Hall don’t get out much doesn’t mean the rest of us have to bow and scrape before them.

    So one mild cheer to the management of Carnegie Hall for having discovered something the rest of us already knew about, and another when they figure out how to make amplified music sound halfway decent in a hall that so far doesn’t appear to be very well suited to it.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 24, 2003 | Permanent link
    Caught in the act

    Back when I was a wee thing, one or two light years ago, an extremely smart smartass who edited the "Goings On About Town" section of The New Yorker got tired of writing new capsule summaries of The Fantasticks, which by that time had been running off Broadway since shortly before the birth of Christ. Much the same problem had manifested itself years before: Robert Benchley, who used to be The New Yorker’s drama critic, got equally tired of writing capsule summaries of Abie’s Irish Rose, the Fantasticks of the Thirties, and started coming up with cute one-liners like "No worse than a bad cold." Forty years later, Mr. Anonymous Smartass approached the problem differently. In place of summaries, he serialized Ulyssesone sentence at a time.

    I seem to be the only person alive who remembers reading those snippets from Ulysses in "Goings On About Town" (I couldn’t find any reference to them on the Web), so I decided it would be fun to do the same thing in "About Last Night" and see who noticed. Hence "Today’s Installment," in which I have been serializing a well-known short story one sentence at a time. One reader, Marla S. Carew, noticed and nailed it on the second installment. Another checked in with the right answer an hour or two after Ms. Carew, while a third correspondent guessed the author—but not the story.

    Care to give it a go?

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 24, 2003 | Permanent link
    Today's installment


    He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 24, 2003 | Permanent link

    Here’s what I listened to on my iBook while writing yesterday’s blog:

    (1) Polly Podewell, "After You, Who?"

    (2) Larry Goldings Trio, "Asimov" (the hippest organ trio in jazz)

    (3) Fred Hersch Trio, "At the Close of the Day" (an exquisite study in pastel harmony—the title is from a poem by Walt Whitman)

    (4) Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band, "Lady Chatterley’s Mother" (composed by Al Cohn, with an amazing shout chorus at the end)

    (5) Stan Kenton, "Young Blood" (composed by Gerry Mulligan, ditto—and dig that Lee Konitz alto solo!)

    (6) Mabel Mercer, "The World Today" (in memory of William Roy, the composer, who died a few weeks ago)

    (7) Liz Phair, "X-Ray Man"

    (8) Jimmy Webb, "Wichita Lineman" (the best record ever made of this perfect little song)

    (9) Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, "Where’s the Money?"

    (10) Peter Warlock, "Sleep" (sung by John Mark Ainsley).

    And so to bed….

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 24, 2003 | Permanent link

    THE JOKER: I’m the world’s first homicidal artist. I make art until someone dies.

    Sam Hamm and Warren Skaasen, Batman

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 24, 2003 | Permanent link
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
    From ocean to ocean, forever

    My Site Meter tells me that "About Last Night" was read around the world yesterday, in time zones ranging from here to—I think—Iraq. Quite a few Asian and European readers, somewhat to my surprise (at one point during the day I seemed to have more readers in Central Europe than in the Mountain Standard Time zone of the good old U.S.A.). The kudzu is spreading!

    I’m no less pleased, as well as a bit stunned, to announce that my mailbag is now empty. (I cleared out 500-plus e-mails in the last 48 hours.) I also switched off my autoreplier, a token of my determination to answer my mail promptly from now on, or at least while I’m in New York, which I won’t be this weekend, so don’t get your hopes up.

    I found plenty of interesting things in my mailbox, including an e-mail from the long-lost woman who played Flora to my Miles in our small-town high-school production of The Innocents (talk about way weird), a note from someone who thinks I’m a redbaiter for having pointed out that Dalton Trumbo was (gadzooks) a Communist, and a large number of e-mails weighing in on the subject of which work of art Yale University Press should put on the cover of A Terry Teachout Reader. Most of you preferred Fairfield Porter’s lithograph Broadway. I reported your choice to my editor at Yale, who wrote back as follows:

    That's good news indeed because that's the image that both I & the designer strongly prefer. It's elegant, classy, & a bit nostalgic without the treacle.

    How about that? Your vote did count, sort of.

    In other news, Maud Newton picked up on my hints about Friday’s guest blogger. No announcement yet—you’ll have to wait while the suspense continues to build.

    Now on to today’s topics, from natty to dishevelled: (1) A genuinely fresh contribution (no fooling!) to the Frank Lloyd Wright debate. (2) Four poker faces. (3) Why we blog. (4) Who now reads Pope? Nobody. (5) Today’s installment. (6) The latest almanac entry.

    I e-mailed my entire mailing list for the first time in several weeks, reminding everyone to come visit www.terryteachout.com, and what do you know? The numbers soared. Why can’t you do that, too?

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 23, 2003 | Permanent link
    Wronged by Wright

    A reader writes:

    Regarding living in a work of art, the idea of living in a Frank Lloyd Wright house is indeed attractive, but as one who was recently privileged (and despite my remarks, it was a privilege) to spend a week in one, I have to tell you it was in many ways damnably uncomfortable. It would be nice to put it in a frame and gaze at it in wonder—in fact, standing in the living room and feeling the room around you is one of the great pleasures of the visit, but oh, my back! He may have been a egoist, but he was clearly also a sadist—bolt-upright chairs with short seats, low to the ground with inadequate padding and leg support, insufficient light in the kitchen and insufficient legroom everywhere. My favorite was the leather-covered chaise—whenever I sat on it, the slippery surface of the cushions began a two-way slide, both away from the chair and away from me. Eventually I ended up on the floor. It is the most comfortable chair in the house.

    Plus, all the showers were designed for someone about five feet tall.

    On the other hand, the place is exquisite, breathes out calm, and seems to swallow large groups of people so that you are never in each other's way. It is not an untouchable kind of art: There is always a corner in the sun, always a place to gather and a place to find solitude, and a stone fireplace big enough for most people to stand in that seems to grow right out of the mountains and provide an anchor that family can build ties around.

    Interestingly, the family built an addition, approved by the Wright foundation, that resembles the main house architecturally, but with some things "corrected"—deeper seats, more comfortable proportions, better padding. It's very nice and far more comfortable to live in, but it is indefinably different: a cabin, not a cathedral, and with only a fraction of the peace and presence of the main structure. Mr. Wright definitely knew what he was doing, even if he did say so himself.

    After I'd been there for a week, I generally felt that, genius or no genius, he was a malicious man with a detestation of the tall. A week at home on my comfortable chairs, and all I can remember is the feeling of standing in the main room, of being given something important by virtue of being in that space.

    I must go and buy my hosts a thank-you gift.

    Well, I can’t thank my correspondent (who requested anonymity) enough. The ongoing blogosphere debate over Wright has had a certain abstract quality, precisely because none of us has ever lived in a Wright house—which is, after all, the heart of the matter. Right?

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 23, 2003 | Permanent link
    Under the radar

    If you’ve already read and enjoyed James McManus’ Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion’s World Series of Poker, published earlier this year, pardon me for wasting your time. If not, do. I’ve never played a hand of poker in my life, but I love reading about high-stakes gambling, and this book, in which a teacher who gambles on the side tells how he went to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker for Harper’s Magazine and ended up as one of the finalists, is one of the best books ever written on the subject.

    Not the best, you understand. Positively Fifth Street isn’t as lucidly elegant as A. Alvarez’s The Biggest Game in Town, as desperate as Jesse May’s Shut Up and Deal, or as disturbing as Jack Richardson’s Memoir of a Gambler. McManus’ prose can be ostentatiously eggheady, enough so that I wish the manuscript had been extensively bluepenciled prior to publication. Nevertheless, Positively Fifth Street is still hugely entertaining, especially for those of us railbirds who’ve never gotten any closer to a high-stakes game than renting The Cincinnati Kid, and I recommend it highly.

    It happens that I was rereading McManus’ book yesterday, and ran across a passage I hadn’t noticed the first time I read it. He comes by his eggheadiness honestly—he teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—but I was still surprised by this passing observation. Noting that the World Series contestants are diverse by any possible standard, he adds:

    Because the evidence before my eyes says the World Series of Poker has evolved from its good-old-boy roots into a stronghold of, yes, functional multiculturalism, proving if nothing else that there is such a thing. Most of the academic versions, of course, have long since degenerated into monocultural zealotry, diverse as to race or gender but in almost no other respects. The term has even taken a pejorative cast of late, correctly associated with tenured politicians swimming in schools of resentment, apparently aiming to prove that ideology is indeed a form of brain damage.

    As my younger friends say, woah! Erin O’Connor herself couldn’t have put it much better.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 23, 2003 | Permanent link

    2 Blowhards reflects on why that art-oriented site contains so little criticism or reviewing (in the traditional senses of those words):

    I don't know about you, but I find the flexibility and immediacy of blogging a godsend. The publishing process, so to speak, is a snap. The ease (and lack of editing, god knows) allows for whimsy, freewheelingness, carrying-on, ranting and mischief-making, as well as earnestness and sophistication—blogging software is a great tool for an arts-gab hobbyist. It's open-ended and flexible; it'll do pretty much what you want it to do.

    A big part of my life, like yours, consists of strolling through the cultural sphere; also I happen to enjoy musing out loud while I do so. That's a lot of what life in the arts-and-culture-and-media world is for me—noticing connections, picking up signals, rhapsodizing, wondering about this 'n' that, giggling, mocking, as well as (occasionally) ranting, or driving home some point or other. I've got no proof for this, but I suspect that this is a decent description of what a life in the arts-culture-media worlds is like for many people, at least on a good day. Plus getting to compare notes—what could be better? So I've chosen to make my blogging an extension of what the arts life already is for me.

    My sentiments exactly.

    Meanwhile, God of the Machine explains why nobody reads Alexander Pope anymore:

    The best poetry is rarely the most quotable; it derives much of its meaning from its context. Pope is highly quotable because he had a superb verbal gift; but the context is foolish. He is like an exceptionally brilliant student who has mastered his exercises and regurgitates them expertly. His poetry is unsatisfactory because the dominant ideas of his time are unsatisfactory. He might have written great poetry had he been born a hundred years earlier or two hundred later. Instead he was bequeathed a cheap and facile philosophy, lacked the intelligence to think his way out of it, and became a poet of brilliant fragments, no more. His vices are those of his age; his virtues are his own.

    In the words of the master himself, "What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed."

    Finally, I’m pleased to note the following weekend movie stats, courtesy of DVD Journal:

    While Focus Films' Lost in Translation clawed its way into tenth place with $2.8 million, the Sofia Coppola picture starring Bill Murray banked it with less than 200 screens. Unfortunately for Woody Allen, his latest project, Anything Else, starring Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci, took just $1.7 million and did not chart….Lost in Translation has earned near-universal praise and will expand to more screens this weekend.

    So go. As a friend of our upcoming Mystery Guest Blogger remarked the other day, "I liked every second of that movie." Me, too.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 23, 2003 | Permanent link
    Today's installment


    Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 23, 2003 | Permanent link

    Dear Stephanie:

    If you see this posting, please send me your new e-mail address!

    I await it eagerly.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 23, 2003 | Permanent link

    "A journalist is stimulated by a deadline. He writes worse when he has time."

    Karl Kraus, Beim Wort genommen

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 23, 2003 | Permanent link
Monday, September 22, 2003
    Fair exchange

    Last week, as you may recall, was way too much, so I took Saturday off. I had lunch with one of my former students, after which we strolled across Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I looked at a number of paintings that I’d never seen before (including a half-dozen John Marin watercolors, glory be!). I spent the evening evening reading a pair of books about which I don’t plan to write, turned off the light at a reasonable hour, and slept deeply and well. I arose on Sunday and got some work done—but not too much.

    I should do this more often, right? Alas, the week to come is crammed with deadlines, and on Thursday I fly down to Raleigh, North Carolina, to spend a long weekend looking at Carolina Ballet, which is presenting two exciting-sounding programs of new and newish dances. That means I won't be around to write Friday's blog (I'm not taking my laptop with me!), so my plan is to borrow a feather from Maud Newton’s ever-so-chic cap and invite a guest blogger to sit in.

    More about that later in the week, once I succeed in talking that guest blogger into blogging for me (she's way cool). For now, here are today’s topics, from restful to hectic: (1) The blessings and curses of technology. (2) "In the Bag." (3) Today's installment. (4) The latest almanac entry.

    I haven’t hectored you lately about introducing your friends and acquaintances to www.terryteachout.com, mainly because I feel overwhelming guilt for not having answered more than a sliver of my mail. Be that as it may, you know what to do, so do it. You show me yours and I’ll show you mine!

    P.S. Since writing the above, I had a further attack of guilt and spent an hour and a half working on my accumulated e-mail, as some of you already know. I got rid of about 400 incoming pieces (most of them spam, to be sure) and now have a paltry 117 e-mails left to answer. Sad to say, I inadvertently deleted a message from a correspondent who accused me of suffering from "penis envy." To him, I reply: not of yours, pal. To the rest of you, I say: hold on, I'm on my way!

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 22, 2003 | Permanent link
    Coming and going

    Two newspaper stories caught my eye last week.

    The first one, which attracted quite a bit of attention on the Web, ran in the New York Times. Written by Nicholas Wade, it summarizes the results of recent academic research into the possible biological origins and continuing cultural significance of music. Why is it, Wade asks, that "[a]ll societies have music, all sing lullaby-like songs to their infants, and most produce tonal music, or music composed in subsets of the 12-tone chromatic scale, such as the diatonic or pentatonic scales"? The answer, it appears, is that human beings are naturally predisposed to respond to tonal music:

    Dr. Sandra Trehub, of the University of Toronto, has developed methods of testing the musical preferences of infants as young as 2 to 6 months. She finds they prefer consonant sounds, like perfect fifths or perfect fourths, over dissonant ones. A reasonable conclusion is that "the rudiments of music listening are gifts of nature rather than products of culture," she wrote in the July issue of Nature Neuroscience.

    But although certain basic features of music, such as the octave, intervals with simple ratios like the perfect fifth, and tonality, seem to be innate, they are probably not genetic adaptations for music, "but rather appear to be side effects of general properties of the auditory system," conclude two Cambridge scientists, Josh McDermott of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dr. Marc Hauser of Harvard, in an unpublished article.

    The human auditory system is probably tuned to perceive the most important sounds in a person's surroundings, which are those of the human voice. Three neuroscientists at Duke University, Dr. David A. Schwartz, Dr. Catherine Q. Howe and Dr. Dale Purves, say that on the basis of this cue they may have solved the longstanding mysteries of the structure of the chromatic scale and the reason why some harmonies are more pleasing than others.

    Though every human voice, and maybe each utterance, is different, a certain commonality emerges when many different voices are analyzed. The human vocal tract shapes the vibrations of the vocal cords into a set of harmonics that are more intense at some frequencies than others relative to the fundamental note. The principal peaks of intensity occur at the fifth and the octave, with lesser peaks at other intervals that correspond to most of the 12 tones of the chromatic scale, the Duke researchers say in an article published last month in the Journal of Neuroscience. Almost identical spectra were produced by speakers of English, Mandarin, Persian and Tamil.

    The second story ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer (not a permalink, alas—the Inquirer clearly doesn’t believe in the efficacy of the blogosphere). Written by Markus Verbeet, it described the sad state of Philadelphia’s remaining camera stores. Most of the smaller ones have closed, and the survivors are seeing their profit margins slashed by the fast-growing popularity of digital cameras, which are expected to outsell traditional cameras this year for the first time ever:

    "From my 15 major competitors in town, there is hardly anybody left," Steve Serota said.

    That would normally make him a happy businessman, except that he had to close Camera Care, his Center City store, last month.

    After spending almost half his life selling cameras in his Arch Street shop, the 52-year-old merchant was instead stuffing lens filters and other unsold inventory into huge black garbage bags.

    "It's a tragedy," he said….

    The changes in the photo industry can be seen just a block away from Serota's shuttered store. Quaker Photo is a state-of-the-art lab, but it could serve as a museum at the same time. The five-floor building contains several dozen essentially obsolete darkrooms.

    "Back in the late '80s, we used to work here around the clock," Bob Marion, the vice president and general manager, said.

    What he called the switch "from a labor-intensive market to a technology intensive market" is immediately visible. Most darkrooms are used for storage or stand empty. Instead of a bustling crowd of up to 120 workers in three shifts, 30 employees are working quietly on desktop computers and digital printers.

    What do these two stories have in common? They show us two sharply contrasting sides of the uneasy relationship between technology and tradition.

    On the one hand, science has in the long run an uncanny way of validating many of our most deeply-held beliefs about the nature of things. I’ve never doubted, for instance, that tonality is not merely an arbitrary preference but a natural law, to be disregarded at the price of aesthetic intelligibility, even though a generation of avant-gardists blithely denied what seemed to me so utterly self-evident as to require no further demonstration—and now it appears that I was objectively right and the avant-gardists objectively wrong. Score one for technology (though people with ears to hear needed no further proof).

    Yet at the same time, cultural traditions are constantly being undermined by what Joseph Schumpeter called the "creative destruction" of unfettered minds operating under the aspect of freedom, and the price we pay for their creativity is the disruption of the lives of innocents who took it for granted that cameras would always need film.

    Mind you, I feel no sentimental attachment to old technologies, merely to the things they did better than the new ones. I miss Technicolor, for instance, but I don’t really miss my old manual typewriter, fond though I was of the glorious clatter it made. The dull pid-pid-pid of the plastic keys of the iBook on which I am typing these words is a more than reasonable price to pay for the pleasure and convenience of electronic word processing…but where does that leave the aging typewriter repairman down the street? It's too easy to say that he should go back to school and learn how to fix iBooks. Age brings wisdom and inflexibility in equal measure, and not all of us are up to the challenge ot changing with the times.

    This site isn’t about politics (and thank God for that). Cultural matters have a way of cutting heedlessly across the cramped pigeonholes of idiotarianism. Very broadly speaking—with plenty of exceptions in either direction—the left has tended to be hostile to the miraculous transforming power of technology, while the right has tended to be indifferent to the plight of those who are incapable of riding its wave. Yet surely we can all agree that both sides must be more responsive if the postmodern world is to remain a fit place for humans. The word "tragedy" has a way of getting misused, but I think Steve Serota got it just about right when he described the closing of his camera store as a tragedy—a minor one, to be sure, but terrible nonetheless. What could be more tragic than a clash of competing goods that leaves most people better off while hurting a few?

    Progress is a blunt instrument, equally well suited to driving nails and knocking people over the head. It’s the responsibility of those who wield the hammer to try to point it in the right direction—as well as to clean up the messes they make.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 22, 2003 | Permanent link
    In the bag

    Time again for "In the Bag," the game that challenges you to tell the truth about your taste. The rules: you can stuff any five works of art into your bag before departing for a desert island, but you have to decide right this second. No dithering—the bad guys are beating on your front door. No posturing—you have to say the first five things that pop into your head, no matter how silly they may sound. What do you put in the bag?

    Here are my picks, as of this second:

    BOOK (FICTION): John P. Marquand, Point of No Return

    BOOK (NONFICTION): Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

    PAINTING: Milton Avery, Red Rock Falls

    CD: Jim Hall and Ron Carter, Alone Together

    FILM: Tom DiCillo, Living in Oblivion

    Your turn.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 22, 2003 | Permanent link
    Today's installment


    She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey’s mind.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 22, 2003 | Permanent link

    "You may drive out nature with a pitchfork, yet she will ever hurry back over your foolish contempt."

    Horace, Epistles

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 22, 2003 | Permanent link


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